Thursday, May 04, 2006

kunstler calls bullshit on ouroussoff

john sent me james howard kunstler's recent ripost in response to nicolai ouroussoff's nytimes week in review op-ed on jane jacobs:

Since this is a blog not subject to corporate fashion-think, I feel free to say that New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's front page article in the Sunday Op-Ed section, "Outgrowing Jane Jacobs," was a load of vicious and stupid fashionista crap.
Jacobs, the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, died last week at 89. Starting in the early 1960s, Jacobs led a brave revolt against the dogmas and destructive practices of Modernist city planners who had wrecked one city after another in their neurotic campaign for urban purification. In 1961, she famously battled (and defeated) Robert Moses's scheme to drive a freeway across lower Manhattan.
In dissing Jacobs, Ouroussoff invokes the memory of the World Trade Center as a "welcome contrast in scale" to the rest of Manhattan. Similarly," he writes, "the shimmering glass towers that frame lower Park Avenue are awe-inspiring precisely because they offer a sharp contrast to the quiet tree-lined streets of the Upper East Side." Pure bullshit. The twin tower buildings themselves were boring, grandiose death-traps, and the plaza between them was for thirty years a sterile wasteland of shearing winds, avoided even by winos, an object lesson in the failures of Modernist public space design.

These buildings, and the voids of empty space they entailed, were suited to exactly the culture of myrmidons we became in the late 20th century, which is to say of enterprises such as the New York Times. Jane Jacobs knew better than that, and she said it powerfully.
In any case, as America sleepwalks into the Long Emergency of energy scarcity, we are going to learn the hard way that a city composed of ever more shimmering towers and megastructures has a tragic destiny.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I agree with Kunstler that the NY Times article on Jacobs was vapid. She did more to change people's ways of looking at the city than any critic at the NY Times ever will.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

I'm def. a Jacobs fan -- her many opinions and theories certainly ring true today. But I found it somewhat refreshing to see a piece that looked at her life and work with a critical yet balanced and respectful p.o.v. Especially after all the Jacobs-worship I heard for two years in planning school. Given what's happened to the W. Village and other uber-charming neighborhoods in the real estate marketplace, you can hardly apply her principles at face value anymore.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In some ways, if anything, Jacobs was guilty of being TOO RIGHT, right?

I mean, if she hadn't started people seeing urban neighborhoods so positively, possibly the housing bubble would not quite be so bubbly in such neighborhoods today.

But a lovely, dense, urban landscape isn't very Jacobsean if it consists solely of a monoculture of Yuppie scum, Gaps and Starbuckses. In terms of human interaction and social fabric, an urban suburb is still probably less bad than a suburban suburb. But that doesn't mean it's good.


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