Tag Archives: Jane Jacobs

good riddance to urban renewal

 

 

 

 

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former residence of Jane Jacobs, 555 Hudson Street, New York, NY; photo by Roger W.  Smith

 

 

The following is an email of mime from today to Lizabeth Cohen, a professor of American Studies at Harvard University.

 

 

Dear Professor Cohen,

I read the review in The New York Times Book Review of your Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. As I said to my wife, it looks like an excellent and very informative book.

I appreciate what was said about it by the reviewer: that it is an even-handed treatment of Logue.

If I may, I would like to share a few thoughts, memories, etc. with you.

I grew up in Cambridge. We lived on Mellen Street near Harvard Square. My parents moved us to the suburb of Canton on the South Shore in my adolescent years, which was in the late 1950s.

In the 1960s, I recall seeing articles in the papers about Logue all the time. As the reviewer notes that your book notes, Logue was revered and received almost unvarying praise. At that age, being the son of liberal, educated parents, I thought that slum clearance was, unquestionably, desirable.

I was an avid Red Soc fan, I regularly read the sports pages in the Boston Herald. I read many articles stating that it was high time Boston had a new park. It was regarded as not even worth or needing proof that Fenway Park was too small (mainly in terms of seating capacity), old, and shabby. The endless refrain was, when are we going to get our new stadium?

No one remembers this, and Friendly Fenway is regarded by one and all as a jewel of a ballpark. A landmark that will never be torn down.

I moved to New York City for good in my young adulthood. After some adjustment, I grew to love it. I made a good friend who was a nonconformist and lived an alternative lifestyle. He was cultured and articulate but lived very modestly in a walkup apartment with a bathroom in the hall on East Fifth Street between Avenues A and B. He helped me to appreciate Manhattan and to begin to think differently. He was prescient. He said to me, at a time when urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air: “I live in a slum and I like it.” He pointed out that PEOPLE were living in these buildings. (And could afford them.)

I am attaching a photo I took on one of my walks recently of Jane Jacobs’s former residence on Hudson Street in Manhattan. I became familiar with her writings in my adult years after moving to Manhattan. I think she is an example of someone whose plain writing and lifestyle, and lack of academic credentials, may make it likely that she gets less recognition than she deserves (which is not to say that her importance and genius are not acknowledged; and I think she was actually a genius). In my opinion, she is up there with some of the great thinkers and writers who very simply take a fresh look at prevailing opinions and wisdom, go back to square one — or “first principles” — and, in plain language, without overtheorizing — looking with their own eyes — get us to see the world anew. It’s sort of like an Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon.

How did she manage to defeat Robert Moses? At the outset, I am sure it would have been regarded as quixotic to try. If Moses had rammed an expressway through the Village and Soho, it would have ruined Manhattan — is the word rape too strong?

Jane Jacobs did not like Lincoln Center. I don’t like it either. I recall when I was in high school and Jacqueline Kennedy and others on television were providing a virtual tour of our “wonderful” new arts center, Lincoln Center. I assumed it must have been so, and who cared about the gritty (then) West Side neighborhood where Jets and Sharks did battle? I hate to go to Lincoln Center now. Aside from the concert halls, which I find dark and unwelcoming, the whole center is a horrible place to hang out in, should anyone care to. The buildings are ugly.

Usually, the plaza with its fountain is pretty much deserted, and it’s unwelcoming, as is the Center. The surrounding neighbored now has no life; there are a few rip off restaurants across the street. The few blocks behind the Center (between it and the river) are deadly, or better said, dead.

I go back to Boston occasionally. I was too young to remember Scollay Square before Government Center was built (though people often mentioned it). The Government Center complex has a Lincoln Center-like feel, and I found it very unpleasant and unenjoyable to walk or spend time in or around it.

 

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, Queens, NY

 

 

— posted by  Roger W. Smith

    November 17, 2019

Lincoln Center; the ruminations of a “genius”

 

 

I emailed the following comment to my wife last month: “Do you realize that you married a genius?”

Don’t worry, I said it in jest. Or at least half in jest. It’s okay to make such comments, jesting or not, to one’s spouse.

She responded, “Let’s not get carried away, dear.” She tends to keep me from getting a swelled head. She is never awed by me. Admires me, yes. Knows my weaknesses all too well. Takes me with a grain of salt. Isn’t given to making exaggerated claims about anyone, including herself.

 

 

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In a previous post

“a Carnegie Hall concert”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/10/13/a-carnegie-hall-concert/

I wrote, about Lincoln Center:

 

I have never liked Lincoln Center. It’s a sterile “arts center” with worse seating and acoustics than Carnegie Hall. The architecture is typical 1960’s (think Shea Stadium): functional but uninspiring. Lincoln Center ruined a neighborhood; the surrounding streets have no street life. There are hardly any restaurants, watering holes, cafes, or places of interest, other than one or two rip-off restaurants on the other side of Broadway, across the street from the main entrance.

 

 

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Further thoughts of mine re Lincoln Center (since my post):

the main plaza is dreary … it’s raised above street level … one has to walk up a stairway to get to it

there are always few people on the main plaza … they don’t look happy

there is no “through traffic” (pedestrian, that is) … it is not welcoming

there is no life, no animation to the horrid “arts center’ or the surrounding area

 

See my photos below.

 

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Lincoln Center; photo by Roger W. Smith; December 2017

 

 

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Lincoln Center; photo by Roger W. Smith; December 2017

 

 

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Guess what? The pioneering urban theorist and writer Jane Jacobs, who became famous for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, said essentially the same thing:

… the street, not the block, is the significant unit. … When blight or improvement spreads, it comes along the street. Entire complexes of city life take their names, not from blocks, but from streets — Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, State Street, Canal Street, Beacon Street.

… Believing their block maps instead of their eyes, developers think of downtown streets as dividers of areas, not as the unifiers they are. … The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York is a case in point. This cultural superblock is intended to be very grand and the focus of the whole music and dance world of New York. But its streets will be able to give it no support whatever. Its eastern street is a major trucking artery where the cargo trailers, on their way to the industrial districts and tunnels, roar so loudly that sidewalk construction must be shouted. To the north, the street will be shared with a huge, and grim, high school. To the south will be another superblock institution, a campus for Fordham.

And what of the new Metropolitan Opera, to be the crowning glory of the project? The old opera has long suffered from the fact that it has been out of context amid the garment district streets, with their overpowering loft buildings and huge cafeterias. There was a lesson here for the project planners. If the published plans are followed, however, the opera will again have neighbor trouble. Its back will be its effective entrance; for this is the only place where the building will be convenient to the street and here is where opera-goers will disembark from taxis and cars. Lining the other side of the street are the towers of one of New York’s bleakest public-housing projects. Out of the frying pan into the fire.

— “Downtown Is for People,” Fortune, April 1958

 

… New York consists of an intricate, living network of relationships–made up of an enormously rich variety of people and activities. … Consider the interdependence, the constant adjustment, and the mutual support of every kind which must work, and work well, in a city like ours.

This cross-crossing of relationships means, for instance, that a Russian tea room and last year’s minks and a place to rent English sports cars bloom well near Carnegie Hall. …

All that we have in New York of magnetism, of opportunities to earn a living, of leadership of the arts, of glamor, of convenience, of power to fulfill and assimilate our immigrants, of ability to repair our wounds and right our evils, depends on our great and wonderful criss-cross of relationships. …

This is all so obvious it should be unnecessary to mention. But it is necessary, for our slum clearers, housing officials, highway planners and semi-public developers have been treating the city as if were only a bunch of physical raw materials – land, space, roads, utilities. They are destroying New York’s variety and disorganizing its economic and social relationships just as swiftly and efficiently as rebuilding money can destroy them.

The most direct destruction is, of course, associated with clearance, and this is a painful aspect of slum elimination of which we are becoming aware. It was described well by Harrison Salisbury, in his New York Times series on delinquency. “When slum clearance enters an area,” says Salisbury, “it does not merely rip out slatternly houses. It uproots the people. It tears out the churches. It destroys the local businessman. It sends the neighborhood lawyer to new offices downtown and it mangles the tight skein of community friendships and group relationships beyond repair.”

…. Our rebuilders have no idea of what they are destroying, and they have no idea of repairing the damage – or making it possible for anyone else to do so. The entire theory of urban rebuilding rests on the premise that subsidized improvements will catalyze further spontaneous improvement. It is not working that way in New York. Living communities, portions of living commercial districts, are so ruthlessly and haphazardly amputated that the remnants, far from improving, get galloping gangrene.

Furthermore, the newly built projects themselves stifle the growth of relationships. We are now conscious that this is true of the huge public housing projects. What we may not be so aware of is that this stifling of variety and of economic and social relationships is inherent in the massive project approach itself, whether public or private housing or anything else.

Take the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts for example. It is planned entirely on the assumption that the logical neighbor of a hall is another hall. Nonsense. Who goes straight from the Metropolitan Opera to the Philharmonic concert and thence to the ballet? The logical neighbors of a hall are bars, florist shops, non-institutionalized restaurants, studios, all the kinds of thing [sic] you find on West Fifth-seventh Street or along Times Square or generated by the off-Broadway theatres down here in the Village. True, halls and theatres are desirable to each other as nearby neighbors to the extent that their joint support is needed to generate this kind of urbanity and variety. But Lincoln Center is so planned and so bounded that there is no possible place for variety, convenience and urbanity to work itself in or alongside. The city’s unique stock-in-trade is destroyed for these halls in advance, and for keeps, as long as the Center lives. It is a piece of built-in rigor mortis. [italics added] …

Lincoln Center shows a brutal disregard for still another type of urban relationship. It will have a catastrophic effect on Amsterdam Houses, a ten-year-old, 800-family public housing project. Amsterdam Houses is now bordered by factories, railroad tracks. garages and institutions except on its eastern side. On that one side, fortunately, it faces, across the street, forty-eight lively neighborhood stores, part of a non-project, ordinary community. The stores and the non-project community will be cleared out to make way for Lincoln Center. The tenants of Amsterdam Houses will therefore no longer have neighborhood stores or any contact with non-project community life, which they desperately need. Instead they will have the Metropolitan Opera. This project will be utterly shut off to itself and isolated. I should think its people would explode. What kind of irresponsibility it this that deliberately and at great expense, makes intimate neighbors of public housing and the Opera, depriving each of the neighbors it needs?

— “A Living Network of Relationships”; speech at The New School for Social Research, April 20, 1958

 

 

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Jane Jacobs and I both think, see, and say the same things. I am convinced she was a genius. She stood urban planning and the way people think about cities on its head.

Ergo, I am a genius.

Just kidding.

But, I see in her writing and views similarity to my own writing and cast of mind. For example:

We are both by nurture and nature contrarians.

We are liberal on many social and political issues, but we have a deep, ingrained strain of conservatism. Some commentators perceived Jacobs, who was arrested for anti-government and antiwar protest activities, as being reactionary.

We both rely on good old plain thinking more than education or professional credentials. We try to think everything through anew, to see it for ourselves — through our own eyes — to examine it “from the ground up.” We don’t tend to be influenced by accepted doctrines.

We both distrust big government and social engineering.

We are both essentially apolitical, but apt to be attacked for our views.

She is refreshingly jargon free. She writes simply and clearly (and, persuasively).

Does my writing compare? I will leave it to the judgment of readers of this blog. But, you know what, I think it does. So there!

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 2017

a significant (glaring) omission

 

 

 

 

 

'The Power Broker' - cover

 

 

 

I recently saw the documentary film Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, about urban theorist and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) and her epic battle during the 1960’s against city planner Robert Moses (1888-1981) over urban renewal projects in New York City.

I was surprised that a film that would seemingly be of great interest and relevance to New Yorkers was not better attended. The theater, the Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Manhattan’s West Side, was practically empty.

The New York Times gave the film and a more or less favorable but lukewarm review.

There was an interesting article about the making of the film in Vogue:

“Citizen Jane Is a Primer on How to Resist Authoritarianism” by Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, April 21, 2017

http://www.vogue.com/article/jane-jacobs-documentary-citizen-jane-matt-tyrnauer

The article was based on an interview with the director, Matt Tyrnauer.

Felsenthal: “Jane Jacobs isn’t mentioned in Caro’s book [a biography of Robert Moses]. Is that an erasure? Why would he leave her out?”

Tyrnauer: “It’s unclear. Caro has spoken to this, and he’s said that the manuscript when he turned it in was double the length of the published book. He has said there had been mention of Jacobs that was cut out. Whether it was a purposeful erasure or not, it is in a way an erasure. She was an important figure who had written about this city in that period. She probably wrote the greatest book about the city [The Death and Life of Great American Cities], and she’s not mentioned in this other book [Caro’s biography] about power and the city. She was involved in key battles against Moses and not mentioned as an activist either. So I think this film serves as another part of the narrative of the period that you don’t find in The Power Broker [Caro’s book about Moses] for whatever reason. I think it’s important to have that history told, to have it be accessible. [italics added]

 

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Robert A. Caro wrote a groundbreaking, award winning book about Moses: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974).

Caro is known as the consummate investigative journalist, an admired biographer who leaves no stones unturned in his research, which is exhaustive and prodigious. He writes massive tomes that answer every conceivable question about his subject. (He has done the same thing with Lyndon Johnson.) He unearthed incriminating information about Robert Moses that was unlikely to have otherwise ever been discovered.

So, I keep asking myself, how could Jane Jacobs have gotten completely left out of his 1246-page biography of Moses? She is not in the index.

Jacobs was the key figure in organizing opposition to and defeating Moses’s plans to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park in Manhattan; to designate the West Village as a “slum,” which would have meant essentially razing the neighborhood; and, most importantly (and most frightening), to build a Mid-Manhattan Expressway that would have destroyed the character of much of Lower Manhattan and, in the final analysis, of Manhattan itself. It was the beginning and then the apotheosis of Moses’s downfall.

As one film critic has observed, “Jane Jacobs was the David to Robert Moses’s Goliath.” She succeeded against what seemed to be impossible odds.

What is the excuse for Jane Jacobs not even being mentioned in Caro’s book?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

A Plan to Destroy Fifth Avenue

 

 

 

Below: Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan on a weekday afternoon in February 2017. This is “traffic bedlam”? (See commentary below.)

 

 

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Below: Fifth Avenue near 50th Street at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Same comment as above. (Traffic engineer needed?)

 

 

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Below: Fifth Avenue at 34th Street, 1:59 p.m., Monday, May 8, 2017. Traffic flowing just fine on a weekday and is in fact light.

 

 

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Below: two photos of pedestrians on Fifth Avenue in Midtown near 42nd Street and in the 60’s just north of 59th Street. “One of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity”?

 

 

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Re

“A Plea for Fifth Avenue” by Janette Sadik-Khan (former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation), op-ed, The New York Times , January 9, 2017

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/opinion/a-plea-for-fifth-avenue.html

 

 

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This op ed should be retitled: “A PLAN to DESTROY Fifth Avenue.”

It is a horrible piece, founded on plain bad thinking. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer, city planner, or urban studies professor to see this.

If Jane Jacobs could read this piece, she would be rolling over in her grave.

Below are the points made by Ms. Sadik-Khan (in boldface), followed seriatim by my commentary.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2017; updated April 2017

 

 

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To quote from Ms. Sadik-Khan’s New York Times op ed piece. (Her words are in boldface, followed by my comments.)

 

 

“President-elect Donald J. Trump, lives in New York City, on Fifth Avenue.”

So what? Fifth Avenue has been a Manhattan thoroughfare over 150 years; Donald Trump’s presidency will last at most for eight years. Fifth Avenue is approximately 135 city blocks — or just under seven miles — long from south to north. Donald Trump’s residence, Trump Tower, is situated on a single block between 56th and 57th Streets.

 

 

Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is “home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity and traffic bedlam.”

Except for the fact that a few sections such as streets in the vicinity of Trump Tower have been closed to traffic, causing traffic problems (and a block long stretch of the avenue having been closed to pedestrians on the block where Trump Tower is located),* traffic on the avenue usually flows smoothly, as I have observed for years — there is hardly ever “traffic bedlam.” Yes, there is often a dense concentration of humanity on some parts of the avenue, such as near Rockefeller Center and Grand Army Plaza, but wide sidewalks make the avenue very walkable, and there is nothing like the congestion, pedestrian wise, that one often experiences in Times Square.

Fifth Avenue is not “home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity.” Factually inaccurate. Maybe Calcutta.

* This was a problem in January 2017 when this post was written. With Trump having moved to Washington, pedestrian and vehicular traffic on Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower now flows well. Some side streets are still closed off.

 

“Fifth Avenue’s five lanes run past landmarks like the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”

So what? Landmarks make the avenue special. Expensive retail shops give it a feeling of luxuriousness. Yes, Fifth Avenue is a premium locale, Manhattan’s priciest and most exclusive avenue, with expensive properties. Is that a bad thing? People of modest means or less than high class status are by no means barred from it.

 

“Fifth Avenue at 56th Street is the site of Mr. Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower, which has rapidly turned into a fortress of Secret Service agents and heavily armed police officers surrounded by curious tourists, camera crews and protesters. They join the usual shoppers, workers and other pedestrians on what were already crowded sidewalks, and often spill into the street. This has significantly slowed traffic, and security concerns have forced the closing of side streets.”

This is too bad. But is the solution for this inconvenience to restrict access to the avenue even more? When and to what end, I ask. What will this accomplish? The solution proposed is right out of  Part III of Gulliver’s Travels (“A Voyage to Laputa”; the opening chapters of same).

 

 

“While Mr. Trump has said he will move into the White House, his wife and youngest child plan to wait until at least the end of the school year. During the campaign, Mr. Trump was known for flying home late at night so that he could wake up in his own bed, and he has said that he plans to return to the city frequently. If he chooses to stay even part of the week in New York, Trump Tower will become a de facto presidential residence and seat of global power.”

More power to him (and Madame Trump). For this, the traffic czars want to restrict traffic access to Fifth Ave?

 

 

“The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”

Ditto. I don’t like the disruption of traffic and pedestrian flow caused by Trump Tower’s being the home of the newly elected president. Let’s hope they don’t “permanently paralyze the city’s streets.” Is she thinking of shutting the City down?

 

 

“As much as Mr. Trump’s election is a historic moment, it also provides an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim Fifth Avenue as a pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.”

Aha, here’s what she wants! To get rid of traffic on Fifth Avenue and recreate on one of the world’s great avenues a so called “public space”! Her zany proposal, if implemented, will ruin the avenue and destroy its character, for sure. Look what the traffic engineers have already done to Times Square and other parts of the city, such as Herald Square. (See photo below of miserable people in the horrible, ugly “public space” that now graces — meant sarcastically — the epicenter of Times Square.)

Who says (why in God’s name does she?) that Fifth Avenue has to be “reclaimed?” As if we were in the South Bronx of the 1970’s.

“[R]eclaim Fifth Avenue as a pedestrian street.” What? It’s already a great pedestrian street. (See photos below.) It’s not in need of “reclamation”!

 

 

“A natural comparison would be with car-free Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Creating public plazas out of streets physically embodies democracy in cities. It gives people room to reflect on their civic institutions instead of being herded along — as they currently are around Trump Tower.”

“Creating public plazas out of streets physically embodies democracy in cities.”

Highfalutin psychobabble. NONSENSE masquerading as wisdom.

“It gives people room to reflect on their civic institutions instead of being herded along — as they currently are around Trump Tower.”

“Herded along”? I can walk just fine on Fifth Avenue, thank you very much, without any one redesigning it for me. It’s a great street to walk on. So much fun. Wide sidewalks. No impediments, save for the barriers and police presence between 56th And 57th Streets, which I myself don’t like, and which are quite recent. Because of this, this nutty “savant “wants to shut down fifteen more blocks of the avenue (to traffic).

“Room to reflect on their civic institutions”? That’s a good one. Is this what the people in the photo below of Times Square’s truly horrible public space are doing?

Think about it. Traffic runs one way on Fifth Avenue (downtown, from north to south). This was the result of making Manhattan’s avenues one way in the 1950’s to improve traffic flow. There are ample sidewalks on either side of the avenue, which give pedestrians the opportunity to not only stroll the avenue and people watch, but also to look at and perhaps visit the shops and institutions which they pass. For example, I like to walk past the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets and admire its beauty and grandeur (people are always congregated on the library steps and in front of the building, enjoying the sun in the summer time, taking photos, enjoying a coffee), past department stores such as Lord and Taylor’s at 38th and Fifth Avenue, and so on.

Fifth Avenue is a great street to walk on, plain and simple. But what does Janette Sadik-Khan, who is anti-automobile, propose doing? Shutting down three lanes of the avenue, which would be exclusively for pedestrians. Why? Who wants to walk in the MIDDLE of the street, and who said there wasn’t already a place to walk?

 

 

“Unlike Pennsylvania Avenue [in Washington, DC], however, Fifth Avenue is a vital transit conduit for 38 bus lines carrying tens of thousands of people every day across Manhattan and to and from the other boroughs. Reserving two lanes for their use (and for the motorcades) would allow the other three to be dedicated to pedestrians.”

As I have said above, traffic flows fine right now on Fifth Avenue, at most times; obviously, it flows better at some times than others. There was severe traffic congestion for a day or two right after Trump was elected when demonstrations were taking place in front of Trump Tower, and there may be congestion — near, say, Rockefeller Center — around Christmastime, but even that is occasional. There are nice wide sidewalks already for pedestrians to walk on!

I have always liked the fact that, in cities, there is a mixture of pedestrians, automobiles, buses, and subways. It means one has a choice of how to get around. (I actually take a perverse pleasure in jaywalking and dodging cars.)

I like the traffic on Fifth Avenue. While strolling on the broad sidewalks north of 59th Street (cobblestone on the west side of the avenue) — with Central Park to one’s left; or, conversely, on the other side of the street, luxurious apartment buildings — I like to mix with the pedestrian throng while at the same time viewing the cars and buses as they rumble down the avenue. There’s something pleasant about realizing that not only is it a beautiful avenue, but that it also serves a purpose as an efficient conduit for north-south traffic.

I rarely drive or ride in a car when in the City. I love being a pedestrian because of the peaceful feeling, the exercise, the opportunity one has to view, at a leisurely pace, any and all sorts of interesting places and commercial establishments. Fifth Avenue is already great to walk along. So now we have to create three dedicated pedestrian lanes. For what? So that people can walk in the avenue. Who wants to walk there? What’s wrong with the good old sidewalks? They do attract a lot of pedestrians, which make them even more fun to stroll on. But, pedestrian traffic is almost never impeded, for any reason whatsoever – except for the situation in front of Trump Tower, which is not the result of Fifth Avenue being Fifth Avenue.

 

“Commercial traffic has already long been banned from Fifth Avenue, and deliveries by truck could continue at enhanced delivery zones on side streets during set times of the day. As for taxis, the city can make accommodations for passenger drop-offs, but prevent cabs from cruising along empty for blocks on end.”

What, in the name of God, is an “enhanced delivery zone”?

Why harass cab drivers? It’s tough enough for them to make a living, and it’s very hard to hail an unoccupied cab in the City.

Ban cars and taxis from a stretch of Fifth Avenue. Why? Every time this sort of thing is done, it creates more congestion on the other avenues which flow from south to north or in the other direction.

 

 

“This isn’t just a feel-good experiment in civics, nor is it a public transit boondoggle.”

Says who? The clueless author of this article, that’s who.

 

 

“Streets that accommodate more people are also better for business.”

Really? My wife likes to drive to shop at a fancy store on Fifth Avenue on off hours when traffic is light and parking is available. How will deliveries be made to these retail establishments?

 

 

“In a similar project I helped introduce in 2009, in the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, seven blocks of Broadway in Times Square were closed to traffic, and two traffic lanes were removed between Columbus Circle at 59th Street and 17th Street, a distance of more than two miles.”

I have already noted that Times Square is unpleasant to hang out in because of the changes made by Mayor Bloomberg and his traffic commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Kahn. The public spaces, to put it kindly, are horrible. Don’t take my word for it. Go there sometime, if you can.

 

 

“New Yorkers in cars and cabs are quick to adapt to change, and drivers easily found alternate routes.”

Wishful thinking, Ms. Sadik-Khan is totally anti-car and is in la la land, so to speak, as regards transportation realities. It’s the polar opposite of (insofar as Ms. Sadik-Khan is anti-car), but the same high handed, autocratic “we know what’s best for the public” attitude that the urban designers who were totally anti-pedestrian, of the 1950’s had.

Drivers in NYC are always looking for alternate routes. Why foist on them the burden and aggravation of having to look for more?

Shutting down a stretch of Fifth Avenue to vehicular traffic will force a spillover of traffic to avenues further east, such as Park, Lexington, and Second Avenues, which are already clogged.

 

 

“The expansion of rapid bus networks in the city and the opening of the Second Avenue subway mean that there are more alternatives than ever to driving in Midtown Manhattan. Turning Fifth Avenue into a bus- and pedestrian-friendly corridor can be the next step: It would not only solve the problem of the Trump Tower jam but also encourage more people to walk, use the growing bike share system and enjoy the better bus service.”

In other words, let’s get rid of cars, which will supposedly force people to walk, ride bicycles, or take the subway. A utopian, impractical scheme. I myself prefer to walk or take public transportation. But, as Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “automobiles are hardly inherent destroyers of cities”; they are not bad. Many people prefer them. Others need to use them. And, cars and vans are an efficient way to make deliveries.

 

 

“… [T]his transformation of Fifth Avenue may be that sweet spot where urbanism, transportation engineering, democracy and politics can align.”

This is purple prose and pure nonsense. Pray that her loony idea never comes to fruition.

 

 

 

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P.S. An op ed page should be a place for divergent opinions. But, really, what were the New York Times editors thinking when they published this piece? Does it echo their thinking? I have a sneaking suspicion that it does. Social engineers are always trying to retool institutions, overhaul codes of behavior, alter public spaces, and so forth, supposedly for our “betterment,” ignoring accumulated wisdom, common sense, and the experience of life as the benighted masses actually live and experience it.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 18, 2017

 

 

 

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photographs

 

 

The Times Square public space

 

 

those horrible Times Square seating areas.jpg

 

(Internet photo)

 

 

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Below (also depicted above) are photographs of the Times Square public space taken by Roger W. Smith. It was virtually empty on midday on a recent February 2017 afternoon. The temperature was in the mid 40’s. It’s truly ugly and I wonder if the few people there are “reflect[ing] on their civic institutions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Also below is a photo by Roger W. Smith of another one of the urban “oases” (read, eyesores) created by Ms. Sadik-Khan: the Garment District seating area at 40th Street and Broadway. Hardly anyone is there, and the seats are empty. It serves mainly to create another traffic obstruction.

 

 

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Garment District seating area, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

 

 

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Below are photographs of Fifth Avenue taken by Roger W. Smith in the early afternoon on Saturday, February 4, 2017. Take a look. Where are the “traffic bedlam” and the crowds? “[H]ome to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity and traffic bedlam”?

 

 

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I took the attached photo of Fifth Ave near 79th St. yesterday afternoon at around rush hour:

Where is the heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic that the traffic engineers have been writing jeremiads about? They want to solve the “problem” by shutting part of the avenue down.

 

 

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Fifth Avenue, January 2017 (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

– Roger W. Smith, email to a friend, February 1, 2017

 

 

 

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Fifth Avenue, 12:25 p.m.; August 20, 2018

 

I took the above photo on Fifth Avenue in the 40’s at midday on a Monday afternoon in August 2018. Where is the traffic jam? The truth is that traffic usually flows very well on Fifth Avenue, which runs in one direction, downtown, from north to south. No traffic crisis requiring the intervention of city planners.