Thursday, July 14, 2016

#196 / Good Advice From Jane

Jane Jacobs in 1961, as Chair of the Committee to Save the West Village

The City of Santa Cruz is in the middle of developing a so-called "Corridors Plan" for the main transportation corridors in the city. Affected would be Mission Street, Ocean Street, Water Street, and Soquel Avenue. In general, higher densities and increased building heights would be encouraged all along these city streets. I have been following the project from afar, and I have been encouraging local residents to get involved. There was a community meeting last night, for instance, on the East Side, highlighting the massive traffic, parking, and other impacts of what is being suggested. My suggestion? Pay attention. The stakes for the future of Santa Cruz are, actually, pretty high.

Pertinent to the discussion of the proposed City of Santa Cruz Corridors Plan would be a reading of Jane Jacobs' famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. First published in 1961, Jacobs' book is still in print

The Nation magazine recently published a tribute to Jacobs by Roberta Brandes Gratz. The article is titled, "The Genius of Jane Jacobs." The subheading to the article says, "She argued in favor of local wisdom and community visions, rejecting the grandiose designs of distant planners." There is a pull quote from the article, below. 

Shall I repeat myself? I will. Santa Cruz City residents, pay attention!

Whether in urban downtowns or neighborhoods, or in suburbs or small towns, local residents and businesspeople know instinctively which improvements will bring positive change. When they have the means to pursue those improvements, or when new people come in and make improvements that harmonize in scale and use with the existing place, positive change occurs. Jacobs recognized this and argued in favor of local wisdom and community visions over the grandiose designs of distant planners and other so-called experts.
Conflict arises when distant experts, developers, and city hall planners come up with schemes in which that local wisdom has not been brought to bear at the beginning of the process. Such schemes usually show little respect for the nature and built form of the community and then are presented at “public” forums, in what is deceptively called a public process. At that point, the plans are tinkered with and maybe an “amenities” package is added (a form of bribery to ensure passage even if inappropriate to the place). But the input of local stakeholders is nonexistent in the beginning and minimal at the end. This is when the total transformation and, often, replacement of a community occurs, not its genuine regeneration.

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