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United States News Technology

The Woman Who Saved Manhattan From a Freeway Running Through It (bbc.com) 171

dryriver quotes a report from BBC: A massive freeway project dreamed up by city planner Robert Moses would have destroyed Greenwich Village and altered much of Lower Manhattan if not for one woman's efforts -- those of Jane Jacobs. As vast tracts of this U.S. journalist's adopted New York were razed to make way for theoretically fast-flowing urban freeways potted about with soulless high-rise housing projects for the urban poor, Jane Jacobs, skeptical of grand plans and nobody's victim, took on the City of New York through her urgent writing and by galvanizing protest groups who took to the streets of Manhattan to save the city from being dismembered, disinfected and depopulated. Robert Moses wanted to clean up New York while investing heavily in its infrastructure: its public parks, swimming pools, bridges, playgrounds, parkways, Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center and the United Nations headquarters. For many years, New York's intellectual elite supported such developments, including the destruction of working-class neighborhoods Moses saw as "cancerous growths" in need of surgical removal. He accrued ever more power and pushed through and proposed ever more radical schemes -- notably expressways that sliced through quarters of the city like blunt knives. This powerful and disdainful planner made enemies, and none more so than Jane Jacobs.
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The Woman Who Saved Manhattan From a Freeway Running Through It

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  • Biased (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Avarist ( 2453728 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @09:36AM (#54410511)
    Well that's a horribly biased piece and whoever wrote that should be shunned. The article is not so much trying to inform you but much rather convince you which is never what journalism should be. I'm not saying I'm on one side or the other of the argument.
    • Re:Biased (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @09:48AM (#54410549)

      Well that's a horribly biased piece and whoever wrote that should be shunned.

      Indeed. TFA is portraying NIMBYism as heroic. The freeway may have been a bad idea, but the other projects would have been nice to have. Cities should be dynamic, with growth, change, and progress. Stagnation is bad for our economy and is a major source of inequality, as rents are driven up, and poorer people are driven out of the most prosperous areas, while the rich cash in on the rising property values driven by artificial scarcity.

      • Re:Biased (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JWW ( 79176 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:11AM (#54410629)

        Nothing Robert Moses thought of was a good idea.

        I understand the people screaming about BIAS for this article.

        Its a concrete description of how bad an idea these socialist building projects and housing concepts were... and still are.

        Hindsight is 20/20 and hindsight says Robert Moses di an insane amount of damage to cities he had influence over...

        • Re:Biased (Score:4, Interesting)

          by kenj123 ( 658721 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:28AM (#54410681)
          >>Nothing Robert Moses thought of was a good idea.
          That's not true. His early work on NYC parks was fantastic. Jones Beach is an iconic beach and recreational area.
          • Re: Biased (Score:5, Interesting)

            by pdclarry ( 175918 ) on Sunday May 14, 2017 @08:41AM (#54413711)

            Yes, he is responsible for Jones Beach. But he also designed the highways to get to it for cars only, with underpasses too low for buses. Intentionally, to keep anyone who couldn't afford a car out. He intended it for middle class only, not "poor people".

            • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

              by zoloto ( 586738 )
              And statistically they're the reason for a significant amount of crime, especially when they bus around from a city to suburban areas. I live in an area with many of Robert Moses' projects and frankly I'm glad those bridges are low. Without that buffer the crime in my area would undoubtedly spike as it has others in my area that don't have such limitations. No thank you. As far as I'm concerned, Robert Moses is a name for good for his projects and the side-effect of keeping crime to a minimum.
          • Jones Beach was built with access roads whose overpasses were purposely built too low to accommodate buses with poor people. He only wanted rich enough people to afford a car. The cross Bronx destroyed neighborhoods. I could go on. Do some googling.

        • Nothing Robert Moses thought of was a good idea

          When the American power plant at Niagara was destroyed in a rockslide in 1954, the private power replacement proposed replicated the ugliness of the original design with no additional protection. Moses cut the plant into the cliff face and produced an attractive and distinctive architectural abstraction. Very different from the approach taken by Ontario Hydro but still valid I think.

        • Nothing Robert Moses thought of was a good idea.

          I understand the people screaming about BIAS for this article.

          Its a concrete description of how bad an idea these socialist building projects and housing concepts were... and still are.

          Hindsight is 20/20 and hindsight says Robert Moses di an insane amount of damage to cities he had influence over...

          Socialist, a high.way? Are you trolling or that confused?

        • Nothing Robert Moses thought of was a good idea.

          Hyperbole much? He was a mixed bag. A lot of his ideas did damage. Some were pretty good. Worst damage was designing the Verrazano Narrows bridge with no possibility for so much as a bike/pedestrian path, let alone public transit. The parkways though are actually pretty good. Everyone says the reason he built them with low bridges and tighter curves just to make them useless for buses is trying to push an agenda - they were much cheaper to build, designed to be unfriendly to trucks and high speeds, bu

      • Re: Biased (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @11:05AM (#54410791)

        Cities also should be built for people, not for cars.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by MangoCats ( 2757129 )

          For the last 70+ years, people come with cars semi-attached. People are no longer satisfied to simply walk from home to store to work and back, they like to move around more and more freely than buses and trains will permit.

          Now, have mistakes been made about how to accommodate people's cars in urban environments? Absolutely, and freeways bisecting urban areas is one of the biggest ones, especially when built on-ground with limited access from one side to the other, that serves neither people nor cars of t

          • When battery energy density reaches about 3-5x of current commercially deployed tech, we can finally have our VTOL flying cars, then we'll have a whole new set of problems,

            Let me guess, the new "set" of problems includes really hot, well-ventilated fires in skyrise towers everywhere.

            Then there will be an immediate mass return to brutalist architecture [wikipedia.org], only all that concrete and brick will function as really tall security bollards, and we'll all stop talking about gated neighbourhoods, and start talking abo

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            The freeways were deliberately planned to go down between wealthy middle-class neighborhoods and low income areas. They form a natural barrier to prevent undesirables from wandering in. Get the right combination of rivers, freeways, railway lines, clifftops, industrial estates and you end up with a walled city without the need for ramparts and watch towers.

        • Sure. That said, it would be nice if it wasn't impossible for Long Islanders to reach the mainland without passing through New York City. Thanks to the lack of some sort of mid-Manhattan expressway, Long Islanders either have to deviate through the Bronx or Staten Island (still NYC, but also with some nice hefty tolls!) or experience the "joy" of crossing Manhattan. You know, being harassed by squeegee men, dodging random pedestrians,/bike idiots/food carts, pot holes you can fill with actual pots, etc.

      • Re:Biased (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MangoCats ( 2757129 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @11:34AM (#54410869)

        This isn't NIMBY, this is "traditional neighborhood preservation" - which can be as rabid and overblown as NIMBY, but it's a different thing, really. NIMBY sends the problem off to somebody else. Neighborhood preservation embraces the problems of the past rather than rushing into the problems of the present or near future.

        Freeways are truly evil and destructive to urban development, they need to be underground, or outside the urban area. The summary delves into social justice themes with the planner wanting to use the freeway as an excuse to raze the housing for the undesirables, but, really, the freeway itself breaks up a community when it's built in a traditional above ground (affordable) manner, regardless of who lives there.

        If you want to talk about NIMBY - the "heroine" of the piece was actually the opposite, striving to keep the "problem people" where they are, rather than displacing them off to somebody else's neighborhood.

        • I was recently involved in constructing an addition to an industrial facility. The addition tied it to what used to be a dance hall / community center. The dance hall dated from before the neighborhood was divided by the local interstate freeway cutting N-S through the center of town. It's basically been abandoned since that time as the area on either side of the highway has become industrial. Note that while the highway itself is raised, part of the project was a large drainage ditch (an open concrete
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Spoken as someone who has no idea how city planning works.

        Robert Moses's projects are a textbook case of how NOT to design a city. Billions of dollars of waterfront property in Lower Manhattan is literally covered by a highway designed and created by... Robert Moses.

        On top of that billions of dollars worth of almost-next-to-waterfront New York City property were converted into low income housing projects designed and created by... Robert Moses.

        To top it all off, the people living in the projects KNOW how va

        • While horrible for property values (the Rockaways have just barely begun to recover in the past 10 years), the Moses relocation at least got poor people residences in areas they'd never in several generations be able to afford. Those "historic" brownstones they were living in before were poorly maintained and decrepit. I liked my 1920s era apartment downtown in my old neighborhood but if someone told me they'd be knocking it down and moving me to a high rise with an ocean view, I'd grab a sledge hammer an

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            We built high-rises in the UK. My relatives lived in one, and it had absolutely beautiful views across the city and the sea close to the horizon. Every floor has waste chutes for rubbish bags. Apartments had double glazing, central heating and were actually on two floors. The architects took a traditional two up, two down and stacked them up on top of each other. However, the problem is the neighbors. Some are alcoholics, some would use the communal hallways as playpens for their children; just basically th

            • Yes, I agree that inevitably it is the problem. Moses' (and other Urban Planners of the time) big mistake w/high rises was ironically too much faith in humanity - that given a nice place to live, they'd keep it that way. Unfortunately, it only takes ~20% of the residents to (sometimes literally) piss all over it and a nice new building becomes a shithole. My current apartment building is in a right-leaning town. Over half the residents are foreign college students on student visas, or professionals on H

        • Keep in mind that what is today valuable waterfront real estate, used to be open-sewer-and-industrial-waste-front property. Nobody in their right mind wanted to live anywhere near a "well-developed" river before the EPA started forcing some minimal levels of cleanliness upon them.

      • A better idea would have been having an overpass going right over or around the city, w/ appropriate exits. It would have left Greenwich village as well as the ground in Manhattan untouched. Or even an overpass w/o exits, so that people wanting to drive directly from Queens to NJ could do so w/o having to go through or around Manhattan.

        Biggest issue, though, would remain the bi-directional tolls, which is what causes much of the congestion

    • Re:Biased (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kenj123 ( 658721 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:11AM (#54410627)
      Please post an article with a counter view that defends the plan. I think the plan was ridiculous. NYC is a city for people, not for cars. Moses's previous project, the cross Bronx expressway is just as ridiculous. Why divert one of the most important national highways, route 80 and 95 through the heart of densely urban area like the Bronx? the problem is the alternate route would have gone through the Hudson valley and there are too many wealthy connected people who live there that would have shutdown the project. So it ends up in a lower middleclass immigrant area like the Bronx. The problem is its ridiculous for both the people who are just trying to pass through and get caught in local traffic and it destroyed many establish local neighborhoods. The disaster that cross Bronx represents was a big reason Jacobs could mobilize sentiment against Moses lower manhattan plan which would have done the same thing.
      • Are you really claiming that it makes no sense for Interstate 95, the busiest highway in the country, to service New York City? Where precisely would you like I-95 to be routed?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It makes no sense for ANY interstate highway to run through a city.

          That's actually one of the major flaws of the interstate highway system,. They should have been run entirely through rural areas, with spurs giving cities access to them. I-95 should have been built at least a hundred miles away from a giant city like NYC. It should service NYC with a I-195 spur that goes to but not through the city.

          Running interstate highways through cities was one of the worst mistakes of the planning of the whole sys

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            The problem is then that the property speculators would have built housing along that I-195. They would claim "just 5 minutes off intersection I-5, new development of luxury condo's with concierge service, minutes from the supermarket, bars and restaurants". Then shopping malls would have been built to be close the apartments. Schools and hospitals would need to be built. And the whole problem would spring up again. Everyone in a large metropolitan area is constantly looking to reduce their commute, so if t

    • You say that like it's a Bad Thing...
    • Re:Biased (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:34AM (#54410707)

      I'm still trying to figure out how this is an appropriate slashdot topic. This sounds more like a topic for People's World.

      • Urban planning = systems planning = nerd stuff.
      • Re:Biased (Score:5, Funny)

        by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @01:51PM (#54411355)

        I'm still trying to figure out how this is an appropriate slashdot topic.

        RTFA. Ultimately Jane Jacobs stopped Robert Moses by planting crypto-ransomware on the sole computer where he kept the plans - Moses was notoriously bad about backing things up. The ransom she demanded was high enough to bankrupt the project and stop it cold.

      • I'm still trying to figure out how this is an appropriate slashdot topic. This sounds more like a topic for People's World.

        Slashdot has been working its way there for years.

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        The design and layout of an efficient public transport system isn't any different from the design of a supercomputing system. In the former, we are shuffling people around, in the latter we are shuffling data around. Consider a multi-GPU system, the CPU's are like the downtown areas with offices, hotels and apartments, the GPU's are like the industrial areas with warehouses and manufacturing plants, freeways and public transport are like the data bus systems.

        Somehow we can design high-performance consumer e

        • That's fine and all, but this topic itself never involves anything either scientific or engineering wise. If the topic was about what was planned and/or how they were going to pull it off, THAT would be relevant, even if it later ventured into NIMBY syndrome. However this never gets into that at all, rather it just stays entirely in the "class warfare" political realm, (hence my reference to a communist newspaper) and then gloating about how some lady took on "the man" and won, as if A) that's never happene

      • I'm still trying to figure out how this is an appropriate slashdot topic. This sounds more like a topic for People's World.

        Some of us are the kind of nerds who have books like Highway Engineering [abebooks.com] on our bookshelves. It's extremely nerdy to be into roads, highways and transportation.

        Or are you one of the people who mistakenly thinks Slashdot is an 'IT' site?

        • Interesting. Do tell me, which parts of this article involve any actual engineering discussion? All I see is a bunch of political discussion, with vague references at best to previous engineering efforts, but no actual detail or interesting nuggets of information about how they were pulled off.

    • If that article bothers you, check out her Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org], which is nothing if not neutral. A clear sample:

      Soon after her arrest in 1968, Jacobs moved to Toronto, realizing that her plans to block progress in New York City had resulted in the urban environment becoming untenable for safe and civilized living. Like a plague of locust looking for a next meal after nearly destroying Manhattan, she looked for her next victim, settling at 69 Albany Avenue in The Annex from 1971 until her death in 2006.[39] She decided to leave the U.S. in part because she recognized how filthy and dangerous the City of New York had become, and she fully expected it to die from there on its own. She and her husband chose Toronto because it had not yet adopted the anti-progressive attitudes she espoused......A frequent theme of her work was trying to stop progress and need to nurture the worst, most lawless and most dangerous areas of the city.

      Good thing Wikipedia keeps me informed. I might have thought she was a reasonable person, now I realize the true monster she is!

    • she probably called trump.
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      The UK had similar policies. The choice was between renovating old apartment blocks to modern standards or demolishing them, building ring roads, interconnects to downtown and freeways, and relocating the displaced population to new high-rise tower blocks. Traditionally apartments had outdoor backgarden bathrooms but some had modernized to communal staircase bathrooms. But now the expectation was per-apartment bathrooms, washing machines, double-glazing and central heating).

      For those cities that moved to ri

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Re: your sig and the Honeywell Lion ad: They had dozens of different ones like that on the back (I think) of many issues of Scientific American spanning a few years. Those and the Martin Gardner articles are the two things I remember most from those magazines.
  • As vast tracts of this U.S. journalist's adopted New York were razed to make way for theoretically fast-flowing urban freeways potted about with soulless high-rise housing projects for the urban poor,

    So.......she's the reason there are so many homeless people in New York?

    • by geoskd ( 321194 )

      So.......she's the reason there are so many homeless people in New York?

      And a large part of the reason for the hopelessly clogged traffic situation in parts of New York...

    • Attention people bitching about New York: Detroit has superhighways going into its core and all it did was let people move out of the city to the suburbs.

      Poor if you do, poor if you don't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:05AM (#54410603)

    How is this either?

    • Because she wasn't persecuted as a pedophile?
    • Transit issues are a frequently interesting topic for nerds, and as city growth continues, issues of how historically city growth has been handled (both successfully and not) matter. One can see for example the ongoing housing crisis in the Bay Area as an example of very much not how to handle things. (Hint: the correct answer for how to handle high housing prices is not "stop all almost all new construction and add even tighter zoning rules.") And these issues are definitely stuff that matters; the effici
      • Transit issues are a frequently interesting topic for nerds

        No. Novel ways of dealing with transit issues are frequently topics for nerds. This is just city development, very boring and mundane city developement. Something that happens in many cities on a daily basis. It would bore even the people reading a realtor magazine.

  • Quote from the article:

    "Jacobs spent the last decades of her life in Toronto, and fought against ambitious urban planning initiatives there"

    So she left New York? Why? Was it so bad to live there any longer, after she sabotaged the plans to make it better?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Indeed. And you can see the result of her "work" on New York City, Toronto and Vancouver. All, lovely, affordable, multicultural places that have a thriving middle class and no safety or other issues at all. She brought us utopia.

      • Just because you can't afford to live there, doesn't mean people with better educations and job prospects than you can't. In fact, it appears that millions of them do. Sorry you couldn't keep up.
      • by Minupla ( 62455 )

        I've lived in Toronto and Vancouver and found them lovely cities to live in. Stanley Park in Vancouver is a gem any city should be proud of, not to mention the lovely natural beauty.

        Toronto on the other hand is a very functional city, with many different cultures.

        Now property values in both of them is high, but that is because people like them and want to live there.

        Min

    • by Minupla ( 62455 )

      I believe her reasons largely centered around the Vietnam war and not wanting her children to be drafted actually.

      Min

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I live in Detroit, which is a city where highway development was used to destroy 'undesirable' neighborhoods. as a result, much of the city is horribly unfriendly to all forms of traffic - the neighborhoods that remain are stitched together with a web of deteriorating overpasses and people that used to be neighbors are now strangers.

    If this had been done to New York, we'd be contemplating pulling it all down at this point, but the historic structures and neighborhoods could never be recovered.

  • In the post truth era you can write crap like this and pass it off as a story
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 13, 2017 @11:11AM (#54410813)

    The core of Jacob's ideas is that cities should be designed for the people living there: Walkable areas where people know their neighbors and will watch out for each other.

    Robert Moses built for the sake of building and to accrue himself power and influence- and displaced/impoverished many working class people to do it. He ignored the research that shows that building more freeways actually creates MORE traffic jams because it encourages more driving-only development and thus more automobile commuters. NYC's other transit options have never caught up from the lack of investment in them during the mid-20th century.

    And if you think NYC is still something from The Warriors/1980s, try visiting the Village some time- it's one of the nicest neighborhoods of any city in North America. /urban planner steps off that soapbox.

    • by Cmdln Daco ( 1183119 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @10:44PM (#54412689)

      And if you think NYC is still something from The Warriors/1980s, try visiting the Village some time- it's one of the nicest neighborhoods of any city in North America. /urban planner steps off that soapbox.

      Visit. That's right. Because the average ordinary American will never have the opportunity to live there.

      You might as well be suggesting we visit one of the historical reconstructions at a Disney Theme park.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But the original Penn Station was a marvelous piece of Beaux Arts design. Its story is also one of the most tragic tales in architecture---54 years ago . . . it was torn down to make way for Madison Square Garden.

    The original Pennsylvania station---named for the Pennsylvania Railroad---opened its doors in 1910. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, it a monument of pink granite, marked by an army of 84 Greek Doric columns and 150-foot vaulted ceilings. Inside, glass and steel soared to make one of the mo

  • Oh, the irony of those espousing the virtues of spending obscene amounts of money on infrastructure projects and now The Village has become so gentrified that mere mortals can't afford to live there.

  • This was supposed to happen in DC too. Here's a basic overview of the original plan [ggwash.org].

    • They have built some of that "unbuilt" highway--and it helped a lot. The rest would have been super nice to have, and would have dramatically raised housing prices.

      • I've lived in Northern Virginia and DC. ALL of those freeways would have become gridlocked, just like everything else in the area. A lot of interesting neighborhoods simply wouldn't exist. Last time I checked, DC didn't need more expensive housing. Have you priced a rowhouse near Metro lately?

  • only for them to be destroyed by gentrification.

    I was watching the first season of Daredevil, and I was struck by the anachronism of a Manhattan depicted as being full of working class immigrants who needed protection from greedy, ruthless developers. That battle was lost decades ago.

    The average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in Hell's Kitchen is $3400/month. Using the 30% of income rent rule, such an apartment would be affordable to someone who makes $136,000/year.

    It's not just NYC. I grew up in an immig

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      That battle was lost decades ago.

      The source material was written decades ago.

    • I was watching the first season of Daredevil, and I was struck by the anachronism of a Manhattan depicted as being full of working class immigrants who needed protection from greedy, ruthless developers. That battle was lost decades ago.

      Of course, as the stories are being lifted from the Daredevil comics of the mid 80's which are probably the writer's impression of NYC in the 70's or earlier. They play it off as the result of the alien invasion of the Avengers movie, but really, they're just using old material that few outside of New England have any real idea of. The stories are a bit behind the times, but they are generally good stories. That's why Marvel movie are doing so well, they are pulling from 50+ years of stories that have been

  • This is why we have huge bridges ending at stoplights, emptying into neighborhoods with no street capacity, and having sharp, hairpin turn approaches.

    The Holland tunnel ends at a traffic circle. A traffic circle. And an intensely dense neighborhood.

    The Triborough Bridge Manhattan approach abrubtly stops at an abrubt 90-degree angle to the northwest and a 45-degree angle to the northeast.

    At least we have I-95, after leaving the George Washington Bridge, lets us reach the Bronx, practically the only Interstate in Manhattan (they call part of this route "under the apartments").

    And it's a funny amusement park where the Long Island Expressway just kind of oozes out of the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

    And those are less than half of the results of the anti-Moses movement.

    Yeah, none of it makes sense. But back to the topic. Nobody seems to remember how bad and seedy lower Manhattan used to be before gentrification transformed it into a museum piece today.

    One fun thing to know and tell about about Mario Cuomo, though, is that he did make an off-handed comment about the impossibly ridiculous traffic problems in the City. He suggested banning personal automobiles as a solution. Really.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this describing what actually happened in Detroit?
    Areas torn down for freeways that never recovered, despite a gimmick railway, a gimmick "building of the future" and the desperate attempt to get enough cash to save things via a casino.
  • Jane Jacobs was an amazing economist, her book 'The Economy of Cities' explains how cities grow and prosper. And points out with nuance how city planners, ignorant of the growth networks of cities and how they function, can actually hurt the city from an economic prospect with their grand plans. While the city planners and top-down organizational thinkers believe they are 'modernizing' a part of a city, or engaging in a new construction project to boost the local economy, they often do the exact opposite. T

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