WHO IS JANE?
Jane's Visioning and Revisioning
It could be said that Jane’s eyes were opened when she began writing in 1952 for Architectural Forum, taking on assignments about urban planning and so-called “urban blight.” Her pattern of observing and critiquing, visioning and revisioning, began when she saw how huge, modern developments and “revitalization” projects had deleterious effects on community life, especially for poor African Americans. Jane observed how the freeways and expressways, bridges and tunnels, and massive public housing units overseen by Robert A. Moses and other modern urban planners were short-sighted, valuing expediency, cars, and architectural scale, instead of the human-scale, particularly the displacement of thousands of families and businesses. She began seeing things from the bottom-up instead of top-down.
you've got to get out & walk
It was in 1958, in her Fortune article “Downtown is For People,” that her observations began focusing on walking as a primary mode of seeing what is best for a city. Rather than imposing a vision and order upon a city, she said, we need to see the city through residents’ eyes, through their experiences: “You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. . . . If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? . . . Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones? It is the premise of this critique that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul: it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are.”
That same year, Jane joined forces with a coalition of organizations in her Greenwich Village neighborhood to oppose Robert A. Moses’ proposal to demolish Washington Park Square for a highway. This was vision turning into revision, the beginning of years of going head to head with the monolithic city planners of her day.
Death and Life
Her most famous mixture of vision and revision was her The Death & Life of Great American Cities, the book that introduced what she called “the sidewalk ballet,” based on her observations and experiences in Greenwich Village. She contrasted the vibrancy, attractiveness and safety of the Village’s complex, unplanned environment with the unwalkable, sterile urban renewal rising up around her. In poetic prose unfamiliar to academic planners, she described a daily dance of launderers and butchers, barbers and mothers, longshoreman and executives, children and locksmiths--lives and lifestyles made possible by elements that are well-known parts of her urban planning repertoire. These included, among other things, small city blocks with a mix of new and old mixed-use buildings, plus a sufficient density of people that allowed for many “eyes on the street,” a natural surveillance that bolstered both community and safety.
Jane saw what existed in her neighborhood--and what worked--and saw the potential for revising what was happening in other parts of her city based on these visions.