Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #26: Allowing People to Move up the Ladder Through “Unslumming”? NO

(Above: The Spalding Building within the footprint of the site of the proposed Atlantic Yards, which was fully renovated as part of natural "unslumming" of the neighborhood.)

This is evaluation item #26 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Allowing People to Move up the Ladder Through “Unslumming”? NO

Jane Jacobs devoted a chapter of her book to the subject of the way in which areas of cities thought of as “slums” went through natural processes to become anything but. She called the process “unslumming” but these days it might be considered much the same thing as gentrification depending on the income levels that come to prevail in an improving area. In describing this kind of improvement she countered the wisdom or dogma of the day that slums needed to torn down to be improved and that residents needed to be removed and relocated in large scale reshufflings of the population. Jacobs’ own Hudson Street neighborhood in Greenwich Village was once proposed to be torn down in one such proposed reshuffling. It wasn’t and is now highly gentrified. Writing about her own neighborhood Jacobs pointed out that it was in many ways very healthy in the first place. Atlantic Yards involves the tearing down of blocks and reshuffling of people living on them in much the same fashion as the old-style urban renewal projects of the days of yore. In much the same way, justification for the tear down and reshuffling is being offered by describing as `unhealthy’ areas that don’t believe themselves to be such and are quite busy improving themselves through natural processes.

Jane Jacobs’ analysis placed her one important step ahead vis a vis what other analyses conventionally concern themselves with. Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo case predicted that the poor would suffer the most when eminent domain was used for large scale economic development (our modern day version of urban renewal projects) because they would be the principal targets of the planned evictions. Jane Jacobs, in realizing that the neighborhoods “unslummed” naturally with many of the same families remaining in place as the neighborhood improved realized that the poor were not just being unproductively evicted from a poor neighborhood, there were being evicted from a neighborhood that was likely a potentially wealthier improved neighborhood. In other words the less advantaged in society are being knocked off an ascending ladder.

It is quite clear that the neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Atlantic Yards site were significantly improving economically at the time that Atlantic Yards was proposed with the same kind of unslumming that Jane Jacobs described. That kind of unslumming involved much less displacement of low income rental families than the Atlantic Yards plan necessitates and it would have left in place even lower income units. There is one thing that Jane Jacobs did not specifically envision in regard to these concerns (though she was quite familiar with greed and a frequent critic of it): With developer-initiated eminent domain, we find that the developers driving the process favor pursuing eminent domain upheavals in those neighborhoods that are most assuredly headed in the nearest term for the kind of natural unslumming that Jacobs documented occurs naturally.

(Below: Also newly renovated, the Pacific Street building that is proposed to be trin down in which Daniel Goldstein, a DDDB plaintiff challenging eminet domain lives.)
(Below Tracy Collin's photo from this Flicker link: Also newly renovated and on the other side of Pacific Street from the site of the proposed Atlantic Yards, the Newswalk Building containing many condominiums.)

(Below: Another example of the kind of buildings you can find in the Atlantic Yards site neighborhood just by looking across the street. This may not be a newly renovated condominium, but does it need to be?)
JJ Cites: [Chapter 15.]

No comments: