Tuesday, January 22, 2013

October 1963, An Historical Snapshot: Ada Louise Huxtable, Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, Cars, Density, Bulldozers, Preservation

One of Ada Louise Huxtable's first articles in the Fall of 1963 dealt with Jane Jacobs, car congestion in midtown Manhattan, density, the New Planning Commissioner and a whole lot more
Buckle your seat-belts for a bit of time travel.  I hope we might return from this trip more appreciative of aspects of where we stand in New York City today.  Our embarking point?: Obituaries provide a sense of history absent from the rest of the news dished up for us, especially when the person who has died lived a long and vital life.

I recently read the wonderfully written New York Times obituary for Ada Louise Huxtable (Ada Louise Huxtable, Champion of Livable Architecture, Dies at 91, by David W. Dunlap, January 7, 2013).  It took me back to the beginning of Ms. Huxtable's career, when she was hired by the Times as “the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper.”  One thing I found myself immediately wondering was how likely it was that her hiring in September 1963 might have been motivated, at least in some part, by the influence of urbanist Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book, “The Life and Death of Great American Cities.”  Though unmentioned in Dunlap's obituary for Huxtable, Jacobs’ book and activism, particularly in New York, were at that point in time raising the public’s consciousness of how building and development were shaping the city environment surrounding us.

What made me all the more curious about this possibility was that Mr. Dunlap wrote his obituary for Ms. Huxtable almost as if he intended to emphasize characteristics of Ms. Huxtable that were similar to Jacobs.  I wound up writing about this (plus a great deal more, including the social responsibility of artists and architecture) here: Tuesday, January 15, 2013, Andrea Fraser, Frank Gehry, Ada Louise Huxtable, Art, Artists, Urban Renewal, Mega-Monpoly And The “Barclays” Arena.

Doing research to explore the possible interrelationships vis–à–vis Huxtable and Jacobs at the time Huxtable was appointed, I found that Huxtable wrote mentioning Jacobs and her influence in one of her very first columns.  The Times announcement of its appointment of Huxatble ran September 9, 1963. The Times article in which Huxtable wrote about Jacobs appeared October 16, 1963.  It was Huxtable's welcoming interview with William F. R. Ballard, newly appointed as the new chairman of the City Planning Commission.  (See: Planner Defends Cars in Midtown.  . . .  The article shows up with several possible alternative Times titles, including this longest version: “Planner Defends Cars in Midtown; New Chief of Commission, Sworn by Mayor, Backs Municipal Garages Begin Duties Today” and “Planner Defends Cars in Midtown Theories Much Sought Caution on Bulldozers”.)

Hindsight Insight on Urban Renewal

The Ballard interview article provides a wonderfully instructive snapshot of what was going on at a key moment in time, especially as we can now look back at that moment in the context of what we know in hindsight.  In 1963 the city was still several years away from committing itself to a program of historic preservation, several years before establishing Brooklyn Heights as its first historic district (1967), quickly followed by Greenwich Village, and though the tide of public opinion was turning against Robert Moses and his urban renewal and massive road-building programs those programs were still being strongly urged upon the public.  Demolition and destruction were on the public's mind.  Demolition of the original  Beaux Arts Pennsyvania Station (announced July 1961) began in October 1963.  Hot topics under discussion, shades of today, were the desirability of automobiles in Manhattan and the subject of urban density.

Huxtable’s interview with Commissioner Ballard reads like her model for writing might be straight reporting, not the kind of criticism with which we now strongly associate Ms. Huxtable.  Its seemingly neutral bent actually comes across as being the opposite of critical.  Huxtable describes Ballard as “ruggedly handsome” with a demonstrated technical competence and  “optimistic, persuasive, energetic,” equipped with a vision for a “bigger, better, more comfortable New York” based on planning theories that Huxtable characterizes as “safely somewhere to the right of center, involving a new kind of civic-togetherness.”  She finishes off the article on this tritely upbeat note about Ballard’s view of the city:
He summed up his views with a statement few new Yorkers would contest: “This is the greatest City in the World.”
There is in the tone of her writing no whiff of the insight you hear from her in a 2008 interview with Leonard Lopate:
The chairman of almost every commission we have is always a political appointee.
In 2008 she was discussing whether appointees like Chairman Robert B. Tierney of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission should be expected to have professional expertise relevant to their appointments.  Huxtable’s answer was to say she puts her faith in the professional expertise of others such as the actual commission members.  Ballard had a certain amount of expertise relevant to the position to which he had been appointed: He was an architect who had been involved in shaping the zoning code. But in Huxtable’s interview Ballard clearly comes across as a politically conscious individual, apt to dutifully address the pros and cons of both sides of an issue.  I suspect that it is only in retrospect we realize how harsh some of his sentiments sound.

Addressing the subject of Jane Jacobs, Ballard provides counterpoint, arguing for urban renewal even while demonstrating his ability to give lip service to contrasting views.  Here is Ballard on the subject of the increasingly disfavored “bulldozer approach to urban renewal”:
When you destroy an old neighborhood completely, you are wiping out something that, sentimentally, I think should be preserved, if it can.  It may run counter to sensible planning, but that’s one of the things that makes the whole operation of planning fascinating.
More revealingly, Ballard criticizes Jacobs, who had just succeeded in preserving the West Village (1961) from bulldozer urban renewal, defeating efforts by Ballard’s predecessor:
She is unnecessarily negative in wanting to preserve everything exactly as it is. . . This is a lack of imagination.  But she is right about the loss of humanity in acres of identical housing.  The solution is not to freeze things.  You go ahead, enlivening, softening, and humanizing the new plans.  We’re learning as we go along.
Huxtable, who specifically mentions the title of Jacobs "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" book in the article, dubs Jacobs the bête noire of Ballard’s predecessor, James Felt.  Ballard was then the new planning face to the Mayor Robert F. Wagner administration, which might have suggested some softening compromise with Jacobs’ views, but here he still sounds apparently eager to get on with the large-scale, pulverizing churns of neighborhood demolition the real estate industry was backing.  One wonders how far we have come when Amanda Burden, the city’s current city planning commissioner, similarly speaks coyly of blending Jane Jacobs’ style values with a rehabilitated veneration for Moses-scale disruptions:
    . .  our plans therefore have been as ambitious as those of Robert Moses, but we really judge ourselves by Jane Jacobs standards.
(See: Saturday, November 5, 2011, Now Appearing In Gary Hustwit’s New Documentary “Urbanized”: Amanda Burden, New York’s High Line and Community Protest.)

In retrospect, fifty years later, (notwithstanding Amanda Burden's vision of kinder, gentler editions of Moses ambitions) most of us are probably absolutely clear about how incredibly valuable Jacobs’ preservation of the West Village was (as well as the preservation of the rest of Greenwich Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, etc.).  We see, also, the insufficiency of Ballard’s vision of preserving only some things within an overall environment rather than the “rich tapestry of time and style” (Huxtable words in 2008), or saving just some “celebrated monuments” in lieu of retaining “the city’s historic fabric and neighborhood character” (Huxtable words in 1966).

A City For Automobiles?

Library of Congress image of Lower Manhattan Expressway via Wikipedia
In her 1961 book Jane Jacobs had taken on another fight, the primacy of the automobile, arguing for the restoration of space back to the pedestrian use.  In this respect, Jacobs’ battle to save the West Village was intrinsically connected to her fight to defeat Moses's plans for a ten-lane Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have destroyed Greenwich Village, SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown. - That plan (cancelled in 1962) would have involved a huge ramped clover-leafing midtown access smack-dab in the middle of Greenwich Village.  It would have been just south of Washington Square Park.  Under the Moses plan, the extension of Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park, fought over by Jacobs and Moses (1955-1956), would, although it was not revealed at that time, have led directly to the clover-leaf acess. (See Jan Gehl's essay "For You Jane" in "What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs.").

In her 2010 book, “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs,” Roberta Brandes Gratz, a longtime friend, colleague and disciple of Jane Jacobs, writes about how it was only after she wrote her 1961 book that Jacobs discovered and fully understood that the Moses long-term plans for automobiles in Manhattan (dating back to a 1929 regional plan) involved a network of highways lacing the borough up and down ( a “Los Angelizing” the borough, a“net catching Manhattan”) with a series of crosstown highway crossings connecting a surrounding oval of major roadways.

In a conversation with Roberta Brandes Gratz years afterward, Jacobs explained how the proposed Westway along the Hudson (ultimately defeated) should be considered part of the materialization of this overall scheme.  The multiple highways going across Manhattan under the plan?: The Lower Manhattan Expressway downtown crossing, a crossing at Thirtieth Street (the Mid-Manhattan Expressway), roadway extending “from Forty-second Street north and from Battery south around and up the East Side” and a Cross Harlem Expressway at ground level at 125th street was also proposed, while the Trans-Manhattan Expressway at the very narrow northern tip of Manhattan up at 178th Street was actually built.

1964 Regional Plan Association map of expressways proposed to traverse Manhattan
In close up
In Huxtable's 1963 interview Ballard has some interesting quotes about his view of automobiles.

Even though Commissioner Ballard made it clear when he left office that he still advocated highways in Manhattan, it may be less than fair play to furnish the preceding information prior to supplying you with his 1963 remarks since: 1.) Ballard's most immediate focus when speaking was on parking garages, and 2.) as Jacobs made the point to Ms. Brandes Gratz, Moses always kept the full scale of his plans under wraps;  “only pieces of it” kept “surfacing.”  Commented Jacobs, Moses made his proposals piecemeal because, “Nobody would ever consent to the insanity of doing the whole thing.”

This is what Commissioner Ballard said of the automobile in mid-town Manhattan in that inaugural interview with Huxtable:
The better and fuller life includes the free use of the automobile. . .  Planners who try to discourage its use make me sick.
His standard for whether too many cars are being added?: Whether the traffic still moves.  He says:
I believe in direct transportation.  The apartment house garages required by our new zoning haven’t affected the streets.  Our traffic still moves.
Addressing Density

Our traffic still moves?  Ballard's criteria for evaluating acceptable density sounds remarkably similar: Whether people are trampling each other.  At the time of the interview the giant new Pan Am Building, (now the MetLife Building) was a public concern (a ‘running argument’ says Huxtable). Only months later, April 14, 1963, Huxtable wrote her official Times review negatively critiquing the completed building.  Part of her critique was of the building’s density: Architecture Stumbles on; Recent Buildings Are Nothing Much to Brag About Other Newcomers "Sixth" Avenue Coming Up (Retitled: Pan AM: “The Big, the Expedient, and the Deathlessly Ordinary” in her book of collected essays “On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change.”)  But as we will return to in a moment, even before the building’s completion, even before starting as the Times official architectural critic, Huxtable had already participated in the “running argument,” speaking out against the social irresponsibility of the building’s size.

In the interview, Ballard (with little hint of personal contradiction by Huxtable as she is quoting him) defended the density the enormous building would bring to its key location:
I think it’s great.  I can’t think of a better place to have a big building. . .  It’s at the focus of all midtown commutation and transportation; the best place for it.  I don’t think concentration is such an evil. . . It’s the essence of cities; it can be a good thing.  Architects don’t pale at the handling of the problem.  I don’t see the disasters that the weepers and wailers predicted.  A park there would have been an absurd idea.  Rush hour? Nobody’s been trampled yet.
As noted, in April Huxtable weighed in officially when the building was completed, confirming her view as the New York Times critic that the building put too much density on the site:
Of  these new buildings, Pan Am has by far the greatest impact on the city scene. Criticism which has been plentiful since the building’s inception, is directed largely at is physical and sociological implications: the effect of seventeen thousand new tenants and 250,00 daily transients on the already crowded Grand Central area and its services and the unresolved conflicts and responsibilities of the city and private enterprise in control of urban densities and master planning.
She simultaneously assaulted the building's aesthetics: “a colossal collection of minimums. . . minimum good materials of minimum acceptable quality executed with a minimum of imagination. . .” penultimately ending up:
This is a prime example of a New York specialty: the big, the expedient, and the deathlessly ordinary.*
(* Although Ms. Huxtable has said she didn’t change or update her essays for publication of her book, the very last quote above I only find in the version of her essay appearing in  “On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change”.)

Previously, before being appointed official Times critic but writing in the Times and perhaps auditioning for that role, she wrote critically of the building while it was still under construction, “it continues to cause consternation among those who believe that such an oversized structure will overtax our already burdened midtown facilities” and she asserted it was a “depressing sight” in contrast to the exceptionally pleasant sight the public had been presented with when the old Grand Central building had been demolished to make way for it: Our New Buildings: Hits and Misses; A survey of the construction that has given New York a new face shows too few departures from the characterless and the imitative, April 29, 1962.

Huxtable's criticism published in the Times at that time was mild compared to what Huxtable wrote in 1961  “In Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City” which she put together for the Municipal Art Society (ultimately partly quoted in the Times as part of her Times obituary and quoted more fully in The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream):
The erection of such an overwhelming structure— the largest single office building in New York— will radically alter the scale of the buildings along Park Avenue.  It will also add an extraordinary burden to existing pedestrian and transportation facilities, and in these aspects its antisocial character directly contradicts the teachings of Walter Gropius, who has collaborated in its design.
Writing a memoriam piece upon the death of Walter Gropius, Huxtable, a hard taskmaster at least when it came to this building, reiterated her social responsibility criticism:
The final irony was the betrayal of his own teaching of social and urban responsibility in one of his last jobs where he acted as consultant with Peitro Belluschi, for the "smoothing up" of the urban outrages of New York's notorious Pan Am Building.  This still saddens his admirers. 
(See: He Was Not Irrelevant, July 20, 1969.)

The building's aesthetics aside, it can be easily argued that Ballard was more correct in his defense of the building’s density than Ms. Huxtable was in her criticism that the density consigned the building to socially irresponsibility.  The Pan Am now MetLife building has now been up for fifty years and it remains true that no one has yet been “trampled.”   (Although flights to the helicopter pad atop the buildings were discontinued after an accident in which five people were killed.)  Ballard's observation that the building is over a transit hub and making it efficient is correct.

There are caveats, however, before jumping to conclusions about who was right or how right they were. Huxtable was talking in part not just about a single building, but the alternation of the scale of Park Avenue (which the Pan Am building surely did).  When she said it would add an “extraordinary burden” to services and facilities in the area one must also think in terms of the burden that all the bigger buildings add to the area when additional development ensues to match that alteration of scale.  Irrespective of whether Ms. Huxtable was entirely correct that the particular building’s density was unsupportable or burdensome it made sense that she was wary of the density then.   And now?  . .   Recently the Bloomberg administration has unveiled plans to almost double-- starting in 2017-- the density of Manhattan’s already very dense Midtown business district, that entire district surrounding Grand Central and the Pan Am building, from 39th Street to 57th Street on the East Side.

Should we not now wonder if the criteria for Bloomberg officials as to what constitutes the acceptable upper limit for density is literally the standard Commissioner Ballard imagined: That you keep building until people get “trampled.”

Ballard might have been surprised to learn that Jane Jacobs, whom he criticized as too negative when speaking to Ms. Huxtable, considered herself a fan of density.  But Jacobs believed in adding density gradually, not in an overwhelming rush.  If the density of the Pan Am building works reasonably well now, fifty years after the fact, another appropriate test to apply was how well its addition to the neighborhood worked right after it was built, something that we must think back through our foggy memories to assess.

Was Huxtable still finding her footing when she interviewed Ballard?  What should be clear from all of the above is that despite her flattering descriptions of Ballard’s good looks, competence, and altruistic goals she couldn’t have disagreed with him more about the social responsibility of the Pan Am building.  It makes you wonder what else she was reporting of his words she personally disagreed with while not cluing in her audience . . .  although, without speaking specifically for herself, she does inform her readers that Ballard disagreed “with many professional planners not only on automobiles, also on . .  the giant Pan Am Building.”

Huxtable does not often address the issue of density.  “Density,” for instance, is not listed in the index of her collected essays despite that being one of her key criticisms of the Pan Am building.  In other essays in that collection she commented with dismay on how the city strained to keep the Ground Zero site at the same density rather than reduce Silverstein’s financial stake in the site, albeit in one of these mentions she refers to how density can be considered “the soul of the city.”   Her expression of dissatisfaction with another huge multi-acre scheme, Hudson Yards, indicates an impatience with the reflex of maximizing density: “we will get a lot of very, very big buildings that will make someone very, very rich,” she says of the Hudson Yards site proper, controlled by the Related Companies, and then notes that, similarly, the surrounding acres “have already been rezoned in part for the biggest buildings possible.”

The subject of the value of density, qua density, came up in a 2008 interview Phillip Lopate (Leonard's brother) did with Ms. Huxtable that appeared in the Times wherein Huxtable averred that she (like Jacobs) was basically a fan of density:
Lopate: I take it you’re for density but not for overbuilding.

Huxtable: How can I be against density? I’m a New Yorker! I grew up with density.
Interestingly the exchange came out of Huxtable’s commenting negatively about urban renewal (taking us back to the bulldozers we spoke of at the beginning), that:
 . . . urban renewal tried to get rid of density. It was viewed as concentrating poverty and disease. Now there’s the awareness that density is more energy-efficient and less destructive of the environment than urban sprawl.
This is something that many people may not know about old-style urban renewal: It often didn’t increase density.  It often replaced more with less, which might help emphasize the point for those of us looking back, how urban renewal was often most importantly about getting rid of things and often who was being gotten rid of.  (James Baldwin referred to urban renewal as “Negro removal.”*)  Moses’s rebuilding of New York resulted in a slowing of the city’s rate of growth and then its first huge population decline staring in the 60's.  It was partly due to the way the shift to the automobile (discussed above) exported population, but Moses’s urban renewal had to be a contributing factor.  A very important part of this exodus was the city’s middle class.
(* I found Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 play, “Clybourne Park,” disappointingly shallow in terms of the “dissection of race, gentrification and real estate” that it was supposedly about.  Tantalizing though, it briefly raised, without pursuing, the conspiracy theories that virtually all governmentally assisted urban revitalization reflects master planning to further disadvantage racial minorities.  Remember: To dub something a conspiracy theory doesn’t mean that it lacks truth.)
These days we tend to associate the demolition of our existing city fabric with density because so often the death sentence for existing parts of the city comes with sudden changes in zoning (like in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) that include increases in density to induce the turnover of a neighborhood.  Nevertheless, when people are being dispossessed by such zoning changes or by current-day substitutes for old-fashioned bulldozer urban renewal like Atlantic Yards, it is safe to bet, just like the old days, that the people being evicted are mostly on the other side of a social divide from those conceptualizing and deciding upon the implementation of such plans.

Intersection of Traffic and Density In Current-Day Modern New York

New York City is currently reclaiming its streets for pedestrians under Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.  An essay Commissioner Sadik-Khan contributed to “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs,” a collection of pieces that pays tribute to Jane Jacobs by working to build on her ideas, begins (p. 242) with an expression of how Sadik-Khan sees her work as a continuation of the “epic battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs over the streets of New York.”  Sadik-Khan’s essay is titled: “Think of a City and What Comes to Mind? Its Streets.”

“Our traffic still moves,” was apparently Ballard’s test whereby one would judge whether too much priority had been extended to urban automobiles.  Commissioner Sadik-Khan hews to Jane Jacobs perception that, many might find counter-intuitive, but which is bearing out, that if the conveniences and roadway space for automobiles are removed (“attrited” as in attrition), the traffic “still moves,” with congestion simply evaporating.  That, is in contradistinction to a city like São Paulo, Brazil which, with a street transportation plan that Ms.Sadik-Khan observes was put together by Robert Moses himself, is enduring the concomitant ultimate ramifications of such a plan: It has bumper-to-bumper gridlock and the business elite resorts to getting around by helicopter (here we are back to the kind of midtown helicopter pads discontinued at the Pan Building!).

Serving the demands of cars results in traffic congestion, but when that demand is not served, demand evaporates.  There is a reverse corollary to this: Commissioner Sadik-Khan speaks of “latent demand” for pedestrian space and plazas.  The more such space is supplied, the more pedestrians materialize to fill it.

It’s interesting how this interrelates with density and how exactly that is working out in Time Square, which with upzoning and redevelopment has become an exceptionally dense pedestrian environment.

The closing down of large portions of Broadway to vehicular traffic was, according to the Bloomberg administration, to deal with escalating levels of congestion and because people were “getting pushed out into the streets” and the sidewalks couldn’t handle it.

The Bloomberg administration is now reinforcing that increased dedication of space to pedestrians,  protecting pedestrians from traffic (and possible `terrorists’) by adding bollards and concrete barriers, see: Times Square ‘Bow Tie’ Is to Get Belts of Steel and Granite, by David W. Dunlap, January 13, 2013.

Before the pedestrian areas were expanded in the Broadway Times Square area I used to walk around carsin the streets  to get around the congestion.  The pedestrian areas have now been expanded but the on-foot congestion has grown to fill in those expanded areas so that now, if I am in a hurry and need to move fast, I eschew the experience of the flashing lights and animated screens on Broadway and walk up to 46th Street by the not-very-aesthetically-satisfying, less crowded, mid-block concourses just to the west.

This is what the congestion is like around Time Square’s 42nd Street and the Bloomberg administration wants to almost double the density of the very nearby Grand Central business district?

Historic Preservation

Although Ballard’s expression of what the goals of historic preservation should be are somewhat enigmatic, his words contain a clear recognition that the first historic preservation laws, not yet in force when he was being interviewed by Huxtable, were about to be enacted in the city with strong public support.  As noted, the appalling destruction of Pennsylvania Station was on people’s minds.  Here, from Huxtable's interview, is Ballard again:
On Historic preservation, he said: “Like food and water, I’m all for it.  I’m for landmark’s legislation.  I believe in preserving worthwhile monuments, it’s tricky to decide what’s worthwhile and what’s simply old.  How much is sentimentality and how much is good common sense?  People are more important that old buildings.”
One reason the fight for historic preservation was gaining traction, soon to take hold as official city policy (in legislation) ahead of the then ongoing fights against urban renewal, was that the Times was very actively supporting the first of those two fights.  Writes preservationist and historian Anthony Woods in “Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City's Landmarks”:
The New York Times would radically increase New York’s preservation consciousness by running well over twenty pro-preservation editorials between December 1961 and the passage of the Landmarks law in the spring of 1965.  This would be in addition to its impressive news coverage of the ceaseless stream of preservation stories marking that turbulent time.

In this period, preservation was blessed to have at the New York Times not only an editor of the editorial page who appreciated the importance of preservation, but a brilliant writer who also embraced its values.  That editor was John Oakes, and the writer was Ada Louise Huxtable.

    * * *

Even before Ada Louise Huxtable made history in 1963 as the first full-time New York Times architecture critic, focusing “public opinion on the city’s built environment as never before,” she was writing in its defense .  As early as 1961, John Oakes had enlisted her to write editorials for the paper.  In this capacity she authored, without attribution, a series of forceful editorials that would keep the cause of preservation front and center until and well beyond the passage of the Landmarks law.
Huxtable, trained as an architectural historian, presented her advocacy for historic preservation as grounded in practically.  In 2008 she said this in a Leonard Lopate Show interview:
This is such a complex subject. You can’t just say save your building when there is no way to save it, when there is no money, when there is no way to keep it and preservationists tend to be very tunnel vision about that. Particularly in new York preservation is a . . it’s a very complicated thing that requires a lot of tradeoffs and a lot of willingness to look at all sides of a problem. We don’t have that now. We have a preservationist movement that really alarms me a little bit because they don’t want to deal with reality. They just want to forge ahead and save buildings and it is not that simple.
But she argued that economic principles tended to favor taking the route of historic preservation  In a May 1999 article for the Wall Street Journal titled “Manhattan’s Landmark Buildings Today” (which is in her book of collected essays) she says at the outset that “Old buildings must earn their way” and then makes the case that they generally do, concluding:
Old Buildings survive because it rarely make sense in bad times to demolish, while in good times there is every incentive to invest.  The city renews and enriches itself when it reuses its landmarks in an economically sound way.  In New York, the art of architecture is inseparable from the art of the deal.
Unlike Huxtable, Jane Jacobs was not, per se, an advocate of historical preservation for its own sake.  Jacobs recognized the value of neighborhood landmarks but did not feel that being historical was a prerequisite to buildings being landmarks.  She was in favor of preserving old buildings but not because they had historical value but because a mix of old and new buildings benefitted neighborhoods in part because the economics of older, less expensive buildings were less costly than those of new buildings.  Jacobs was a preservationist, believing in the preservation of neighborhoods, but what she believed in was the preservation of the fabric of neighborhoods, their dynamics and their social interrelationships.  Seeing neighborhoods as functioning ecosystems replete with valuable street life she was not about preserving neighborhoods frozen in time because she saw them as continually evolving systems.

While there is inevitable overlap to the arguments for preserving beautiful historic old buildings and preserving neighborhoods that include a mix of just plain old buildings, one critical convergence is that both Huxtable and Jacobs would tell you that there is economic benefit to doing what each of them they advocates.  But while Huxtable observes common sensibly that old buildings often survive in economic bad times because it rarely make sense to demolish them then, under the urban renewal that Jacobs fought demolition of old buildings (and their neighborhoods) was precisely what was done when the economy was bad.  It was done on a large scale . .  And  and the buildings demolished were sometimes not replaced for decades.  No wonder that when Commissioner Ballard left office toward the end of the Moses era he was theorizing why all the jobs in a city with a declining population were disappearing.

Is there value to preserving history for history’s sake?: We ought to note that this article that concentrates on looking back to the past is, of course, all about the value of persisting artifacts to spur our memory, together with a sense and appreciation of history.

More About William F. R. Ballard

According to William F. R. Ballard's own Times obituary (appearing September 29, 1993- he died at 88), he was city planning commissioner from 1963 (October 16) to 1966 (November 24).  He was replaced by Donald H. Elliot.

Notwithstanding the negativity Ballard expressed to Huxtable about Jacobs in that first interview, the Times obituary puts Ballard’s fights with Moses, not with Jacobs, front and center in the highlights of his career:
What followed were nearly four years (sic) of political and governmental clashes of competing developmental interests. The stormiest ones involved a continuing conflict between Mr. Ballard and Robert Moses, with Mr. Ballard opposing many of Mr. Moses's most ambitious projects, such as a bridge spanning Long Island. Sound.
There is also this:
A year later, he said a proposal to build public housing in Central Park was "patently absurd."  
Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York”* (1974) has one anecdote concerning Ballard to the effect that under Mayor Wagner the battles he had with Moses were lost:
There were many times when the Mayor announced to friends that he was going to refuse a Moses demand, but the pattern following the announcement was always the same.  William F. R. Ballard, a chairman of the City Planning Commission, recalls vividly Wagner “agreeing to back me— told me he would— and then ended up backing Moses.”  And some version of Ballard’s words are repeated by dozens of officials caught in tugs of war between the two men.
(* Caro’s epic “Power Broker,” a tool often turned to by many to remember and understand much of New York's history, makes no mention of either Jane Jacobs or Ada Louise Huxtable although Jacobs’ seminal 1961 book is mentioned in his bibliography and Caro actually wrote a whole chapter about Jacobs that he ultimately did not include because of the book’s length, one third of which had to be cut.)

Public opinion was mounting against Moses and his development practices and Moses's power was about to end at the hands of the next mayor, John Lindsay, acting in concert with Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

While we remember that Moses was ultimately deposed from power in this era, in 1963 when Ballard took office, demolitions for urban renewal were still lumbering forward sometimes for projects that seemed to continue with life of their own, into the late 70's, well after Moses himself had been officially ousted from power (the key date being his departure from the Triborough Authority in 1968) and even after New York’s sobering fiscal crisis hit in 1975.  For instance, the Schermerhorn-Pacific urban renewal plan, representing a significant prime chuck or Brooklyn real estate, didn’t get underway until 1973.

Unfortunately, the ideas of Robert Moses persisted tenaciously.  While we think of Jane Jacobs’ ideas as ultimately triumphing and being a cause of Moses’s 1968 departure from Triborough, 1968 was the same year Jane Jacobs left New York for Toronto, Canada to ensure that her sons would not have to fight in the Vietnam War,* and even in 1968 with Moses departed, the neighborhood-eviscerating Lower Manhattan Expressway was not entirely dead, the Regional Plan Association urging that it be built even in August of 1969.  Under the Bloomberg administration many of Moses’s ideas were fashionable again (though not the expressways) and there was a concurrent effort to rehabilitate the image of Robert Moses an effort to rehabilitate the image of Robert Moses that included the launching of three separate museum exhibits.
(* Jacobs, in Canada, continued to write books, participate in activism and extend her influence as a thinker and respected theorist.)
Upon his departure in 1966, Mr. Ballard, unhappy that he was requested to leave his office (John Lindsay was now mayor), identified for the Times some “planning questions that remain unresolved.”  Notably these included as his first and last mentioned points:
    •    The “grinding problem” of building desperately needed highways, such as road across lower Manhattan, without displacing hundreds of people.

    •    A more effective distribution of wealth was needed as more and more jobs were eliminated by technology.
The first point makes you wonder how hard Ballard was actually fighting Moses on some of the the things Moses wanted.  The reference to the loss of jobs likely says something about the deleterious effects Moses’s policies were having.

Not everything was seriously grim during Ballard’s tenure in office: His staff gave him a Planning-by-darts game which he played with the new mayor, Lindsay, perhaps hoping to get into his good graces.  One of the game's multiplicity of fictional booby prizes was getting to walk up “six flights of stairs for tea with Jane Jacobs.”

Ballard’s Vision Of Unleashing Energy vs. Jane Jacobs' Vision

Just be before the very ending of the Ballard interview article (where Ballard makes his “greatest City in the World” remark) he offers a thought that juxtaposes weirdly with the thinking of Jane Jacobs:
I would like to promote the interest of the whole community and its future. . [pause for emphasis]  Have you ever thought of the brains and imagination stored up in New York, and what it would mean to get it working in the future?  I think there’s a way to tap it.  I want to bring these people into the planning picture.
The thing about Jane Jacobs is that despite the unnecessary negativity and “lack of imagination” that Ballard attributed to Jacobs, Jacobs had indeed thought a lot about “the brains and imagination stored up in New York” and what it means for it to be activated. Truth to tell, she believed in it more positively than Ballard and had probably thought about it a lot more. All of her work was based on her perceptions and faith that one didn’t need the pseudoscience of “planning” to mobilize that energy, that people were already very much in the picture making cities happen, that the government `city planning' interventions whereby the working fabric of neighborhoods were ripped up and destroyed were antithetical to making use of this energy and represented an expulsion of the people from that same process in which Ballard said he theoretically wanted to involve them.

More About the Hiring of Huxtable

Here is more about the hiring of Huxtable.  The day after the David Dunlap-authored obituary of Ms. Huxtable appeared, Michael Kimmelman, the current architectural critic for the Times, offered an appraisal looking back (See: An Appraisal- A Critic of the Curb and Corner, by Michael Kimmelman, January 8, 2013.)

Mr. Kimmelman does mention Jane Jacobs to put Huxtable’s engagement by the Times in context:
She emerged during the era of Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs, with whom she belongs in the pantheon, but as the first full-time critic writing on architecture for an American newspaper, she also had that rare journalistic opportunity to pioneer something of her own, to fill a yawning gap in the public discourse, to carve a path with moral dimensions, “to celebrate the pleasures of this remarkable art,” as she put it.
In my last Noticing New York article went back, to look in depth at a 1958 piece Huxtable did for the Times Magazine to observe that Huxtable, writing there, virtually made her own case for creation of the job the Times eventually hired her to fill by arguing that the “press which regularly reviews art, literature, movies, music and dance, ignores architecture, except for building news on the real estate page” and that “architecture as a standard feature is virtually unknown.”

Mr. Kimmelman went back one year further to note:
Ms. Huxtable’s first publication in The Times seems to be a letter to the editor in 1957, complaining about an art review of photographs of architecture in Caracas, Venezuela, that ignored the deleterious effects of those photogenic but authoritarian buildings on the fabric of the city and its people.
Kimmelman had already declared at the beginning of the article that, “She cared about public standards, social equity, the whole city.”  Even if Huxtable was ghost-writing Times editorials starting in 1961 as  Anthony Woods tells us, these would still seem to be Huxtable's earliest writings for the Times.

In a 2008 interview Phillip Lopate conducted with Ms. Huxtable that appeared in the Times Ms. Huxtable provided the following account of her 1963 hiring.  It elides revelation that she had already been ghost-writing the Times historic preservation editorials:
Aline Saarinen had been The New York Times’s chief art critic, but when she married Eero Saarinen, she thought she should not write about architecture anymore. The Times’s editors were upset; they said they needed to get someone else, and so she recommended me. I went in all dressed up with my clippings, and I remember saying: “All you’ve been doing is printing the developers’ P.R. releases in your real estate section. You have nobody covering this very important field.” So they created the post for me of architecture critic.
(See: Her New York, November 7, 2008.)

That's the end of this tour through history.

In the end, even if some hard-learned lessons are already in danger of fading from our memories, nothing we have covered here is a very far remove from the present day.  Ms. Huxtable, who assumed the role of architectural critic for the Times in 1963, wrote her last column for the Wall Street Journal just last month.  1963 was time of great jeopardy for the city with much hanging in the balance as to whose ideas would prevail.  If we forget, if we again find ourselves distracted and reading just the P.R. releases in the real estate sections, we will probably have to learn many of these lessons all over again.

So I suggest we be on the hunt for good obituaries worth scrutinizing that will allow us to maintain our consciousness of our past.

No comments: