Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Jane Jacobs wrote the seminal critique of "urban renewal".

What she most hated was taking time away from her writing, which she said was her way of thinking. And in at least five distinct fields of inquiry, she thought deeply and innovatively: urban design, urban history, regional economics, the morality of the economy and the nature of economic growth.

Her major books followed a logical progression, each leading naturally to the next. From writing about how people functioned within cities, she analyzed how cities function within nations, how nations function with one another, how everyone functions in a world of conflicting moral principles, and, finally, how economies grow like biological organisms.

A small book in 1980 arguing for Quebec separatism created a stir in Canada, while a memoir, which she edited, of her great-aunt's experience as a school teacher in rural Alaska impressed reviewers with its homespun wisdom in 1996.

But it is "Death and Life," published by Random House, that rocked the planning and architectural establishment and continues to influence a third generation of students who can still find the book in college bookstores.

On one level, it represented the first liberal attack on the liberal idea of urban renewal. At the same time, The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw an old-fashioned vision of community that he compared to Thornton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners. Ms. Jacobs herself thought the book's continuing appeal was that it plumbed the depths of human nature like a good novel.

Herbert Muschamp, The Times's chief architecture critic at the time, wrote in 2003 that Ms. Jacobs's book was "one of 20th-century architecture's most traumatic events," in part because Ms. Jacobs was dismissive about the importance of design. In recent years, she had become an inspiration to architects and planners who espouse what they call the "New Urbanism," an effort to promote social interaction by incorporating such Jacobean features as ground-floor retail in suburban developments.

Patrick Pinnell, an architect associated with this school, said "Death and Life" represented almost the last expression of optimism about American cities. As early as 1974, John E. Zuccotti, then chairman of the New York City Planning Commission, called Ms. Jacobs a prophet and himself a "neo-Jacobean" when he announced a smaller-scale, more sensitive urban planning approach.[NYT]

Her ideas still have resonance today...

"Death and Life" made four recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals. 4. Population must be dense.

These seemingly simple notions represented a major rethinking of modern planning. They were coupled with fierce condemnations of the writings of the planners Sir Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, as well as those of the architect Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, who championed their ideal of graceful towers rising over exquisite open spaces.[NYT]

The influence of Jane Jacobs will be felt for a long time. RIP

Jane Jacobs, Urban Activist, Is Dead at 89: New York Times

Nov 5, 1961: Lloyd Rodwin's book review of Jacobs, Neighors are Needed, for the New York Times.

The Galvin Opinion recently wrote about Grenier's & Patitsas'
The Liturgy of the City Street

Foreward by Jane Jacobs to
The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Washington Post and how
Jane Jacobs knew the folly of liberals urban planning

Update: Head over to Mirror of Justice which is more edifying than this blog.



Remember how we highlighted Harry Macklowe's new project in Midtown? Well, there are still some holdouts who are holding up his big plans. Steve Cuozzo says that a tailor Rafael Schwartz wants to stay as long as possible at 510 Madison Avenue.

HARRY Macklowe just can't wait to get started on his two big Midtown development projects. And who can blame him?

Having spent nearly $500 million to buy the Drake Hotel at Park Avenue and 56th Street and a site anchored by 510 Madison Ave., he's eager to tap the hot market for new apartments, which Macklowe is believed to have planned for both prominent corners.

But a couple of pesky tenants are giving him fits. It doesn't necessarily mean Macklowe's up to anything wrong - holdouts often see pots of gold when they stand between a developer and a project he's spent years trying to get off the ground.

Nor is he alone: Last week, we reported on how Markt restaurant had dragged Taconic Investment Partners into court over Taconic's plan to evict it from 401 W. 14th St. to make room for its own project.

But the Macklowe skirmishes make for entertaining spectacles. At 510 Madison, fifth-floor custom tailor Raphael Schwartz - whose holdout posture was reported in The Post last month - remains in his studio, even though black netting wraps the building and several adjacent ones on East 53rd Street as preliminary demolition gets under way.

Schwartz is the last upper-floor tenant; the ground-floor stores have all left or agreed to leave except for luxury pen shop Rebecca Moss, which is also duking it out with Macklowe over terms of an early lease termination.

Neither the developer nor the tailor budged after The Post's story. Then, Schwartz said, last Friday, "This person, Harry Macklowe, came here and started talking about the community and how I'm stopping his new building from going up."

He said Macklowe, who was polite and made no threats, tried to get Schwartz to accept a $200,000 relocation offer by mentioning the names of several rabbis he believed he and Buenos Aires-born Schwartz had in common.

"He said, 'You know, several of my rabbis are from Argentina.' "

"Why should I give a [bleep] about his rabbi?," Schwartz laughed. "I'm not even Jewish."

Schwartz just might get that pot of gold

HOLDOUTS GIVE MACKLOWE FITS By STEVE CUOZZO - New York Post Online Edition: realestate


Regulator ruling could hit banks on real estate lending - Charlotte - MSNBC.com 

Do banks have too many commercial real estate loans in their portfolios? Federal bank regulators are assessing whether banks are crossing a threshold of acceptable construction and development loans.

In recent examinations, bank regulators say they have found risk-management practices and capital levels at some institutions have not kept up with their growing commercial real estate portfolios. Some banks have expanded their lending into new markets without doing enough analysis. Others don't have enough capital to absorb losses if their real estate loans turned sour.

Mark Schmidt, a regional director of the FDIC's division of supervision and consumer protection, says a particular area of weakness has been in management information systems, which banks use to break down their portfolios by property types, loan structures, developer concentrations and other ways to determine risk.

"What we're seeing is pretty good underwriting, but the underlying management information systems to track, monitor and manage concentrations has been lacking," he says. "But that's not a real costly situation, and it's something banks ought to be doing anyway." The agency has no problem with banks making commercial real estate loans, Schmidt adds, "as long as they do it well."

Regulators have suggested two thresholds around commercial real estate loans for banks to determine if they need heightened risk-management practices: construction and development loans that match or exceed a bank's capital, or commercial real estate loans three times a bank's capital amount or higher. Construction and development loans have been the fastest-growing segment among commercial real estate loans, according to the FDIC.

Concern on the part of regulators is one thing but as long as proposals aren't so alarmist that they actually needlessly hurt banks that are doing the right things anyway.

Regulator ruling could hit banks on real estate lending - Charlotte - MSNBC.com



There might be end in sight for some of the delays at the World Trade Center site. Lois Weiss reports that 2 World Trade Center will be designed by a world reknowned architect. Hopefully, the other political barriers for revitalizing WTC will soon be eliminated.

PLANS for one of the key buildings at Ground Zero are starting to jell.
The 65-story tower, referred to as "building two," will have a 200 Greenwich Street address and is being designed by Lord Norman Foster.

Foster designed Hearst's "Crystal Cathedral" and is planning two towers for RFR Holdings - one at 610 Lexington and 53rd St. by the Seagram Building, and the other on the old Sotheby's building at 77th and Madison. You can be sure all the curtain walls will be creative and unique.

We already know the base of "two" will include 130,000 feet of street and underground retail connecting directly to Santiago Calatrava's PATH station just across the new Fulton St.

Responding to downtown market needs from the financial services sector, however, we've now learned that developer Larry Silverstein has Foster including "up to" five floors specifically designed for trading. These floors will be sandwiched between the retail and regular office space above, and will obviously rent for a premium.

"There's a trading floor shortage," advised one prominent broker who has seen the plans.

Should be a very interesting project.

TRADING PLACES AT 'TWO' By LOIS WEISS - New York Post Online Edition: realestate


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