Slate currently has an excellent tribute to the late Jane Jacobs, the great iconoclast who eviscerated urban-planning projects like Renaissance I and II and single-handedly changed the face of American cities. The Slate article at times would seem to support the idea that Pittsburgh's new approach to urban planning is in the Jacobs tradition:
But the current revival of many American downtowns, the converted lofts, the restored historic districts, and the residential real-estate booms in cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco attest to the essential correctness of her vision.
But would Jacobs really approve? Looking at Pittsburgh's new planning schemes, it seems like we have, perhaps, forgotten her message. Here's a look at another bit from the article, emphasis added:
During the 1960s, a time when the reigning orthodoxy was urban renewal, which generally took the form of urban demolition, she championed a more evolutionary, humanist, and small-scale approach to city planning.
Though neither a designer nor an urban economist, Jacobs wrote what is undoubtedly the most influential book on city planning of the second half of the 20th century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The first sentence is characteristically direct: "This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding." Jacobs criticized what she considered the utopian and misguided theories of Modernism, and she also rejected the other chief urban theories that had influenced 20th century planning: the monumental City Beautiful and the countrified Garden City movement. She was not nitpicking. This was a frontal attack on the idea that cities could be designed at all.
But isn't that exactly what Pittsburgh is doing as the people at the top of the power structure design our city's "newest neighborhood"?
Claiming Jacobs as a libertarian can be difficult business (see comments here), but I have to think that her dismissal of grand planning schemes would put the URA in a questionable light. Because after all, why is it that city leaders snapped up all that property downtown? Because they insist that top-down is the ONLY way to change a city. It's a master-plan or nothing.
Sorry, Ms. Jacobs.