Ouroussoff, Koolhaas, and The Scalable Jane Jacobs

I still can't tell if I was the only one kind of weirded out by the sudden and overwhelming outpouring of nostalgic loss and ruminating over the death of Jane Jacobs.

Archinect, Tropolism, Curbed, Kottke, even the Home of the Whopper of Superficiality, Gawker, had a paean to the urban theorist/activist within hours after she died.

Not to speak too ill of her or her vital, inspiring ideas and all, but I wonder if someone with a Nexis account can look up how many mentions Jacob had garnered in the weeks, months, even year or two before her death, just to get a little bit of perspective.

Of course, I'm always troubled when I end up agreeing with Witold Rybczynski, who pointed out what many New Yorkers already know as giant, extruded "luxury" condo towers fill up once-edgy, heterogeneous neighborhoods and a once-risky High Line is on track to become the High Lawn for a dozen-plus starchitected buildings: vibrant city fabric is now a luxury amenity.

But Kottke's right and too nice to be righter when he says that Nicolai Ouroussoff's counter-examples to Jacob's idealized dense cityscape--Lincoln Center and the WTC--are a joke. There needs to be some contrast and some alleviation of the pressure that a dense city creates, but as recently as like five minutes ago, Lincoln Center was a consensus failure set for a Diller+Scofidial jazzing up. You know, to pump up the energy level and get some more street-level activity going.

Meanwhile, mall developers are, oddly, the ones working the hardest to apply Jacobs' multi-use, multi-constituency formulas to their newest urban destination retail experience centers [sic], which are essentially privately owned and managed downtowns.

Ouroussoff's strongest refutation of Jacobism is, of course, LA, but what if that's some kind of Jacobist diversity/vibrancy, just with a car's extended range?

No one going to Manhattan anymore because it's too crowded and expensive. From Williamsburg to The Slope and who-knows-where, Brooklyn is ascendant. I wonder if the Jacobs ideals still hold true, just on a larger scale than her little legs could imagine.

Koolhaas talked about the NY Grid and the city center's march northward over 200 years, From within (the) Wall to Five Points to Allen to Bowery to Astor to Sixth to Fifth to Park to. Then once at Columbia, I watched him make the same argument, only about the Pearl River Delta, where the entirety of Hong Kong and Kowloon is the late 19th century Delancey Street of the late 21st century.

Now look what I've done. I started out only wanting to mention that in fact, according to the buzz, Lincoln Center is supposed to suck, [I don't really think it happens to, but then, I don't use it that much, except to enjoy all the unobstructed light it sends into the apartment.] but now I've wound around and ended up agreeing with that monkey who curated the dress show at his "Prada Epicenter" [sic sic sic]. It's late. Let me sleep on this, and in the morning, after a nice big glass of Diet Coke, I'll come back adn solve the Problems Facing Our Cities.

Hal Foster on Koolhaas on urban congestion, Delirious New York, and the Pearl River Delta. [lrb.co.uk]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: May 1, 2006.

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