Jane Jacobs Talks About Pittsburgh, New York, Toronto And Montreal

To set the stage here we have to go back into the history of New York in the early 1960’s and see how close it came to resembling today’s Pittsburgh. An idiotic infection, gloriously called “urban renewal” was the latest trend which had some of it’s roots in Pittsburgh was headed into New York. ” Under the powerful influence of multimillionaire R.K. Mellon, Pittsburgh became the first major city to undertake a modern urban-renewal program in May 1950. Pittsburgh was infamous around the world as one of the dirtiest and most economically depressed cities, and seemed ripe for urban renewal. A large section of downtown at the heart of the city was demolished, converted to parks, office buildings, and a sports arena and renamed the Golden Triangle in what was universally recognized as a major success.” (no really!!!)

The whole process seemed inevitable, the feds were building the national highway system, handing out government backed loans for sprawl development. The older parts of cities which were often overcrowded were starved of investment and slated for “renewal/removal”.Robert Moses, who handled almost all the projects in the New York area was given massive powers.The age of mass transit investment came to almost a complete stop and from 1930 onward, Moses built most of the city’s auto infrastructure, including the Triborough, Bronx Whitestone, Henry Hudson and Verrazano Narrows Bridges and Highways like the Cross Bronx, Brooklyn Queens, Staten Island Expressways as well as Shea Stadium, The UN headquarters and Lincoln Center and most of the cities Housing Projects. After dividing the Bronx with the Cross Bronx Expressway, Moses planned the next steps, two massive highways driving straight into Lower and Midtown Manhattan.

” The Lower Manhattan Expressway (also known as the Canal Street Expressway or LOMEX) was a controversial plan for an expressway through lower Manhattan conceptualized by master builder Robert Moses in the early 1960s. It was to be an eight-lane elevated highway, stretching from the East River to the Hudson River, connecting the Holland Tunnel on the west side to the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges to the east. By 1961, Moses had set in motion two immense federal initiatives, which would have leveled fourteen blocks along Broome Street in SoHo. The highway would have required thousands of historic structures to be condemned, and would have displaced nearly 10,000 residents and workers.”

“By 1949, Robert Moses, New York City Parks Commissioner and Arterial Coordinator, proposed a six-lane elevated expressway along 30th Street. The expressway was to connect to the West Side Highway and the Lincoln Tunnel on the west side of Manhattan, and the Queens Midtown Tunnel and FDR Drive on the east side of the island. It would be constructed within a 100-foot-wide right-of-way immediately south of 30th Street. The viaduct would require substantial demolition of high-rise buildings within Midtown Manhattan”

” At one time, one quarter of federal construction dollars were being spent in New York, and Moses had 80,000 people working under him. Many of Moses’s projects were marked by racism, and he largely ignored the concerns of the poorer citizens of New York City and New York State. Although he built playgrounds in vast numbers, he managed to locate practically none in Harlem. Similarly, the main aesthetic achievements of Riverside Drive and associated amenities were located south of 125th street, and a pattern of barriers to access for non-white citizens, whether steep stairs or busy highways, appears repeatedly in his public projects. Close associates of Moses claimed that they could keep African Americans from using pools in white neighborhoods by making the water too cold.[3][4] He actively precluded the use of public transit that would have allowed the non-car-owners to enjoy the elaborate recreation facilities he built. [5] After much litigation by private landowners, his highway projects on Long Island followed a circuitous path so as not to cross the properties of wealthy landowners such as J. P. Morgan, while those same highways demolished numerous working class neighborhoods throughout New York City.”

In 1961, a self educated activist and urban expert, published a simple and logically devastating attack on what was happening, which helped people think about the grass roots street level factors that make cities work. I have lent the book, called The Death and Life of Great American Cities to tons of people, one of whom actually handed it back to me after reading half of it claiming it was nothing more than common sense, which is what it was.

Part One

1 Comment so far

  1. Seth Roberts (unregistered) on October 3rd, 2007 @ 5:46 am

    Where’s Part One?

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