Beyond Moses and Jacobs

Neither the block-level gentrification inspired by the patron saint of city planning nor the wide-scale mega-project redevelopment advocated by New York City's infamous planning czar are useful models for the realities of 21st century cities.

 Scott Larson Neil SmithJane Jacobs died in 2006. 2007 will be known as the year when modernist city building thundered back into town, courtesy of New York City. There had been advanced warning, of course, with much postmodernist architecture of the late twentieth century resembling modernism decked out for a fancy dress ball, but the coup de grace came this spring and summer with the triple-barreled rehabilitation of that monster of modernism, Robert Moses. The revisionist cycle is now in full tilt. But why? And why now?

Recently, three concurrent exhibits entitled "Robert Moses and the Modern City" have sought to revive the reputation of Robert Moses, long disparaged as the evil genius who, between the 1930s and 1960s, destroyed a liveable New York with his ruthless and authoritarian destruction of neighborhoods. Today's revisionism not only seeks to reposition The Power Broker, as Robert A. Caro's monumental 1974 biography labeled Moses, but to transform him into the hero-saviour -- unfairly scorned -- of a city that had lost its way. In the eyes of the exhibition curators, Hilary Ballon and Kenneth Jackson, professors of architecture and history respectively at Columbia University, Moses "had a greater impact on the physical character of New York City than any other individual," and the result was overwhelmingly positive not negative. Without Moses, the city was sunk: the legacy and accomplishments of the master builder would "equip New York to function in the modern age." As a New York Timesreview concurred, it is time for a "fresh look."

All of this, and the exuberant press coverage accorded the Moses rehabilitation, is anathema to followers of Jane Jacobs whose vision defined a city not by its megaprojects for highways, housing and institutions but by its neighborhood sensibilities -- eyes on streets that people would want to walk down. When Jacobs and a swarm of neighborhood groups took on Moses in the early 1960s, it was a drastically unequal contest: Moses with the power of the city bureaucrats and state coffers, powerful patronages, and multiple alphabet agencies behind him; Jacobs with only the reaction of the goodly but angry citizens determined to preserve their city. And yet in the public sphere, this ideological reaction against big build modernism has somehow prevailed for more than four decades. Even professional planners, who found themselves the powerless tools of a modernist city building that never really ebbed, pined for the possibilities of a Jacobsian city. Out of precisely such frustrations, the New Urbanism sprouted across the ideological and geographical landscape.

Robert Moses with model of the proposed Brooklyn Battery Bridge, 1939

Robert Moses with model of the proposed Brooklyn Battery Bridge, 1939. (Photograph by C. M. Spieglitz. Library of Congress)

It is hard to think of a starker contrast than that between Moses modernism and Jacobs localism. Yet the standoff between Jacobs and Moses only ever sparred two separate wings of the middle class concerning how to build and rebuild the city for people of greater rather than lesser class privilege. In that divine way that elites do, both appealed to a kind of populism. For the high-born Moses it was a learned populism that promised mobility, housing and recreation for the middle class and a sliver of the deserving working class (by definition white), and brooked no opposition. For the more modestly endowed Jacobs, it was a homeowner, small business populism which, while it took on the city's capitalists, and won, had little room for the working class. Thus in her classic, The Death and Life of American Cities, African Americans have only walk-on parts as drug dealers, park denizens, and perpetrators of crime. A starched morality of class/race propriety came with Jacobs' vision. She had an excellent point about the destructiveness of "cataclysmic capital investment" – had she been more theoretically minded she might have cited Schumpeter's "creative destruction" – but her true heroes were all individuals, upstanding bourgeois citizens, such as the Hudson Street shop owner who would hold your keys for expected visitors (they still exist, but less likely on Hudson Street). His eyes, for Jacobs, not those of working class kids, are the eyes that counted on the street.

The argument between Moses and Jacobs, which Jacobs undeniably won in the popular press if not in corporate real estate board rooms, therefore looks like an argument over the scale of change more than politics. If Moses's tendencies were Mussolini modern, Jacobs's were 18th century small town American bourgeois – localist democratic republicanism. Scale is of course political, but in this case the disagreement takes place in a fairly narrow political band. Where today's Moses revisionists and the Jacobs defenders meet, is in the politics of gentrification. They are for it, just by radically different means.

Moses revisionists laud the possibility of large scale city building, his ability to "think and build big," for Ballon and Jackson. Today that means gentrification, whether via high rise condo construction, the massive redevelopment of abandoned industrial lands, big build redevelopments like Times Square, or the proposed greening of the city via "congestion pricing" which restricts central city access to those with the money to pay. All roads lead to a city that excludes the working class. The vision makes sense only in a Bloomberg New York. Rudy Giuliani, once dubbed the Mussolini of Manhattan by the New York Times, was the social Moses: he unleashed his police force to swashbuckle its way through the unclean signs of crime and disorder, especially in Manhattan, whereas Bloomberg has quietly capitalized by rezoning entire neighborhoods and precipitating a big build condo boom. True, Bloomberg was roundly defeated in his attempt to rebuild west central Manhattan on the back of the 2012 Olympics, but the new Moses of our day, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctorof, already has other iconic city building projects in the works.

As for Jane Jacobs, she has become the patron saint of a petit bourgeois gentrification whose self-righteousness fortifies itself precisely in its opposition to the big capitalist gentrification of Moses and the master builders. Even if it is largely supplanted around the world by a wholesale remaking of urban space along class lines, block-by-block gentrification persists today and carries the imprimatur of Jacobs' "fix-up-the-neighborhood" ethos. But wonderful diversity in century-old home ownership architecture very rarely means social diversity in terms of class and race. And the new ideology of the "creative city" works precisely by building a four-lane highway between quaint gentrified neighborhoods and city boosterism in the global marketplace. Jane Jacobs' eyes on the street did not intend the consequence of the 1980s "broken windows" thesis, but it created the folk philosophy template upon which Giuliani's zero tolerance was built. And many liberal gentrifiers understood the point enough to support Giuliani's revanchism. The New Urbanism, whatever Jacobs' own ambivalence, now pioneers big build anti-suburban modernism, albeit horizontal more than vertical. The Jacobs mantra harks back to an 18th century individualism, recasting early pioneers as gentrifiers of the country before we had gentrifiers – except of course that the displaced then were native Americans. In the long term, whether one is evicted by Moses and the master builders or by a landlord intent on raising the rent for the "creative class" makes little difference. Eviction remains the result.

Hudson Street, New York

Hudson Street in New York City. (Cyburbia)

So the emerging political battle over the next shape of the city is hardly one between nasty neoliberal capitalism and cuddly citizen democracy. The neoliberal acid of market calculation has indubitably corroded both state and society down to the bare bones of capitalist necessity – remember Margaret Thatcher: "there's no such thing as society" – and the liberal Jacobsian vision of village globalism is in total nostalgic retreat. But for most people in the world this represents a battle among the privileged. Radically missing, howling in its silence in this entire emerging debate, is the voice of working class neighborhood dwellers, long distance subway riders, grocery store customers, office workers, all of whom lose housing, jobs, services and access, no matter whether Moses wins anew or Jacobs rallies.

The why and wherefore of the Moses revival are therefore obvious. New York City, like cities around the world, is embarking on a neoliberal city building splurge and needs to generate the legitimacy to see it through with the least disruption from its citizens. Whatever the nationalist resurgence around the world after 2001, cities and their regions are increasingly supplanting nation states as the fulcra of the global economy. As French urbanist Henri Lefebvre perceptively saw in the 1970s, city building is becoming an increasingly central plank of capitalist accumulation. The Moses revivers would have a more convincing case if they acknowledged that the master builder's ambition of building prolific public housing will never have a place in today's neoliberal city building vision. And Jacobs nostalgists would also carry more credence if they admitted that public housing was the furthest thing from Jacobs' agenda.

Meanwhile, back among the people, the only thing worse than having to stay in neighborhoods long abandoned by capital, services and landlords is that the landlords themselves become developers or are bought out by developers (private, state or public-private) who force neighborhood residents to who-knows-where. Moses and Jacobs can argue grave to grave. It's time for a new vision of the political city.

Neil Smith is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography and Director of the Center for Place Culture and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Scott Larson is a student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center where he is pursuing a Ph.D in human geography.



Moses and Jacobs

Bravo, Smith and Larson, for speaking what is anathema to planners and urban designers whose collective ideology is so deeply and, to a large degree, blindly grounded in Jacobs' philosophy on urbanity. Maybe someday they'll stop their token "citizen participation" endeavors and embrace real democratic planning processes. Your piece also responds to recent support of gentrification in our cities, particularly in Los Angeles, by people of seemingly privileged experiences who have forgotten, or probably never realized, that this process of urban change DOES NOT benefit the current inhabitants who deserve local improvements as much as the "creative class."

What exactly are "real democratic planning processes"?

"Maybe someday they'll stop their token "citizen participation" endeavors and embrace real democratic planning processes."

What exactly are these "real democratic planning processes"? As a working professional and a student I've seen good and bad examples of citizen participation, but I have yet to see an adequate alternative. Do you think we should put planning issues on the ballot? Ask the residents of Oregon what they think about Measure 37 now.

Real planning processes.

marcotico asks What exactly are these "real democratic planning processes"

Well, your clue lies in the ideological rhetoric right up in the beginning of the comment: speaking what is anathema to planners and urban designers whose collective ideology is so deeply and, to a large degree, blindly grounded in Jacobs' philosophy on urbanity.

The hasty generalization telegraphs the boilerplate to come.



Please try coming to Upstate New York to have this debate...

Oh the arrogance of academic elites and big city dwellers!

"New York City, like cities around the world, is embarking on a neoliberal city building splurge and needs to generate the legitimacy to see it through with the least disruption from its citizens."

Perhaps places like the New Yorks and Londons of the world, and maybe the Torontos and Bostons and Seattles, have the luxury to debate the "neoliberal city building splurge." For great swaths of cities across the Northeast and Upper Midwestern parts of the United States, we would be happy for any sort of city building, neoliberal or not.

Badly confused on congestion pricing and public housing

Although I enjoyed your article, it was badly confused on the subjects of congestion pricing and public housing.

Congestion pricing is not a measure which "restricts central city access to those with the money to pay." Only 5% of those who come to the charging zone do so by automobile, and of those, 90% are coming from an area where most people use transit (

Furthermore, those who drive in Manhattan earn on average 30% more than those who don't. They are a privileged, elite group of people who are using up scarce public space and poisoning the air for the rest of us, the regular people in the city, not the mention causing global warming, which will have deleterious effects primarily in the third world, where few drive.

As someone who spends 75 minutes on the subway before 9:00 AM every day, I reject your later reference to "long-distance subway riders" as one of the groups who will lose "access" to Manhattan. How will congestion pricing keep out subway riders? The funding is earmarked for transit improvements, primarily in the outer boroughs.

Now, on to public housing. You mention numerous times that public housing is not on the agenda. This has nothing to do with the urban philosophies of Jacobs/Moses and has everything to do with the fact that public housing requires federal funding. As you may have noticed, the Bush administration is not likely to warm up to this idea any time soon. The Bloombergs, Moses Revisionists, and Jacobs Worshipers of the world are working with extremely minimal urban budgets that by default must rely primarily on private investment. This is unfortunate, but it is the way things are these days.


Well, I can't disagree that central cities and inner-city districts should not become the exclusive habitue of the upper class, and in the process displace those who struggled to remain inner-city dwellors while the now returning well-to-do moved to the suburbs and commuted mostly by car until rush hour traffic became intolerable.

There's so many low and average pay jobs in city centers, making living there unaffordable for city center employees will place the burden and cost of commuting on those forced out.

Rather than focus development solely in city centers, metropolitan regions should redevelop suburban commercial districts as well. The suburbs are far more economically dysfunctional than city centers. Building 'up' the city centers while leaving current and future suburban development patterns as is, will not reduce traffic congestion. All the building materials that go into towering downtown condos could be more effectively directed into many more mid-rise structures in suburban communities to build the economic structure they lack.

The leading vision for the future is Regionalism. New Urbanism deals with mixed-use development theories on a 'single-district' level. Regionalism deals with the economic imbalances between the 'many districts', historic townships, neighborhoods and commercial centers of an entire metropolitan area. I hope the authors are 'up' on REGIONALISM.

Beyond Moses and Jacobs

First of all, the characterization of the Moses exhibits is way off the mark. They were balanced and thorough, pointing out the good as well as the bad (to use very simplistic terms). Secondly, what on earth does this mean: "And the new ideology of the “creative city” works precisely by building a four-lane highway between quaint gentrified neighborhoods and city boosterism in the global marketplace"? Ironically, this astonishingly sanctimonious piece concludes, "Meanwhile, back among the people" as if "the people" would have any idea what these two authors are even talking about. They say it's time for a new vision of the city and then utterly fail to deliver one.

Old-Left Rhetoric

The article is filled with rhetoric that sounds like it comes out of the 1930s or earlier:

- petit bourgeois gentrification whose self-righteousness fortifies itself precisely in its opposition to the big capitalist gentrification

- Radically missing ... is the voice of working class

- market calculation has indubitably corroded both state and society down to the bare bones of capitalist necessity

There is some truth to this class analysis: I would like to see greater equality of income, with a tax system that is fairer to the working class.

But this old class analysis prevents them from seeing newer issues. In the 1930s, no one worried about global warming and limited resources. That is why they are wrong when they complain about:

- “congestion pricing” which restricts central city access to those with the money to pay. All roads lead to a city that excludes the working class. (as isoquinophlex points out).

- And the new ideology of the “creative city” works precisely by building a four-lane highway between quaint gentrified neighborhoods and city boosterism in the global marketplace. (as lisacchamberlain points out).

The old class struggle just talks about transferring wealth from the big capitalists and petty bourgeois to the working class, and it says nothing about today's need to live more simply in order to slow global warming and preserve the world's environment. That is why they don't see that we need congestion pricing and quaint walkable neighborhoods to get both the bourgeoisie and the working class to drive less.

That is also why they have no positive vision of the future. In the 1930s, they would have advocated global socialism as the alternative to global capitalism. Now they have nothing to advocate.

Charles Siegel

Congestion Pricing Combats Global Warming?

I'd be very interested to know why you think congestion pricing would in and of itself help to combat global warming. Proposals like Mike Bloomberg's seem to necessitate that major freight-productive activities take place farther and farther away from major consumption centers like New York, meaning vast new quantities of cargo have to be hauled long distances. From a carbon emissions standpoint, how does this help things?

Of course, if there is any empirical evidence suggesting that congestion pricing in and of itself reduces global warming, I'd be delighted to see it.

Congestion Pricing And Global Warming

I do have some doubts about Bloomberg's proposal to charge trucks $21 to enter Manhattan, and I wouldn't mind having the charge eliminated for commercial vehicles.

It is very obvious that congestion pricing for cars reduces global warming. Motor vehicles are the second greatest source of CO2 emissions in the United States, so reducing automobile use will obviously reduce CO2 emissions. If you want empirical evidence, we can look up how much VMT was reduced by congestion pricing in London and then calculate how much CO2 emissions were reduced. But I don't think we have to plug in numbers to prove the obvious.

Incidentally, I also think a carbon tax to combat global warming could promote more local production, by making it more expensive to transport goods.

Charles Siegel

Congestion Pricing And Global Warming

In the case of London, has congestion pricing really reduced vehicle use in an absolute global sense (since we are talking about global warming), or has it simply transfered vehicle use elsewhere (whether to somewhere in the region, the country, or overseas), thus keeping global vehicle use constant (or perhaps even exacerbating it)? Theoretical deduction would seem to me to suggest this latter possibility. By entrenching service sector hegemony in major consumption centers like New York or London, it becomes necessary to haul manufactured goods across long distances to be consumed. Thus, carbon emissions might go down in Central London and Southern Manhattan (good) but, in turn, emissions will go up in production centers like China and Malaysia (bad), as will emissions from increased transoceanic shipping (bad).

So, along these lines, the carbon tax idea seems pretty good, but congestion pricing still seems like a non-sequitor at best.

Congestion Pricing In London

It hasn't reduced the number of people coming into central London, but it has reduced the number of cars coming into central London by about 20%. At the same time, it has increased bicycle use by 43%.

In other words, congestion pricing has caused a mode shift in central London from cars to bicycles and public transit. And each new transit rider or bicyclist has reduced his or her CO2 emissions.

I haven't heard anyone suggest that London's congestion pricing has changed the location where goods are manufactured.

If anything, congestion is an obstacle to manufacturing in major cities like London and New York: having your trucks stuck in traffic is an extra cost for manufacturers, which could be eliminated with congestion pricing for cars.

Charles Siegel


I have no problem at all with the idea of charging sedans, and (more importantly) expanding mass transit. But doesn't the congestion pricing arrangement in London charge trucks as well? And vans for that matter? From a class perspective, this is an important distinction: white collar workers on the one hand, and goods-handlers on the other.

And of -course- having economic spaces geared exclusively towards consumption and not at all towards production demands that goods be hauled longer distances. I simply don't see any way around this deduction; and at any rate it's borne out in recent history.


I don't think we should confuse voting for democracy. I was merely stating that planning processes must be made more inclusionary, particularly with decisions that are made at the local level. Some examples exist in the related literature. Planners and designers (and I'm one of them) must be more proactive in shifting power and voice to under-represented populations. What we've done as planners is let the powerful usurp the traditional participation practices. I think what Smith is saying is that a new paradigm is needed, one that not only seeks to include the working class, but is of the working class.

Irony, anyone?

Like a couple of commentators, I find it hard to argue that the displacement of working-class households by yet another upscale development, whether in New York or any other sizable metropolitan area, constitutes something from which the society as a whole will benefit, much less the folks who are being kicked out into "who knows where" by yet another gigantic "renewal" project or smaller-scale gentrification.

That said, however, I was struck by the irony that was inadvertently (I think) part of the authors' final paragraphs. The increasing influence of New York, Tokyo, and other metropolitan areas in a global economy is something predicted — even advocated — in considerable detail in "Cities and the Wealth of Nations," published more than 20 years ago. The author? Jane Jacobs.

petit-bourgeois pot calling the kettle black?

It's a neat dichotomy to present, that of the casual gentrifiers v. the big project developers, and that we, as planners have been working to much for "them". The "them", of course, representing either "the man" or the petit-bourgeoisie. The problem is that the political landscape is a lot more nuanced than trite marxist explanations of capitalists, the middle class, and the proletariat

I live in an urban neighborhood that could, at best, be described as working class. It would be hard enough to get any of my neighbors to read past the first two sentences of this essay. I think it's ivory tower seclusion, or perhaps arrogance, to assume that it's simply a matter of opening the doors.

My Cambodian neighbors want to go back to Battambang or to Dallas (yes, Texas). My Indonesian neighbors want to make enough money to move to the suburbs. My Mexican neighbors want to make enough money to move back to Puebla. My Filipino neighbors, mostly near retirement age, are cashing out and going home. My Nicaraguan neighbors want to make enough money to pay the rent and get drunk. My Euro and African-American neighbors, about 35% of the makeup of the neighborhood, and mostly past retirement, are the only people who talk about staying put. In most cases it's because they have large extended families in close proximity. Their children and grandchildren, people under 25 who aren't talking about leaving, are the mostly high school drop-outs who run the neighborhood drug operation.

Presenting an open and democratic planning process that is also easily accessible can only work if people in the neighborhood are committed to the process and to the neighborhood itself. It's easy to bring out the people who claim the latter, the problem is when they insist on exerting their authority in one manner or another and for whatever reason.

It's easy for academics to talk about democracy. It's quite another to practice it in the real world with a public who either doesn't agree with it, doesn't understand it, or sees it as a threat to their way of life or livelihood. It's especially so in immigrant and native-born, working class neigborhoods with the former communities often being steered by strongmen in the churches and/or the business community and the latter being steered by strongmen in the churches and/or the local political machine (which, in my experience, is the most anti-democratic institution we have to deal with).

Truly democratic institutions are grassroots, they can't be cobbled together by planners or anyone else, in an attempt to serve a specific function. Planners should be working with these groups. The question that naturally follows is, why are there so few, functional civic groups that have widespread buy-in from the neighborhood?

I’m not sure that

I’m not sure that contrasting positions like “block level gentrification” or “mega-project redevelopment” dichotomy is helpful. An interesting alternative: strategic planning. A great example: Curitiba, Brazil. Jaime Lerner, an architect and one time mayor of the city, initiated much of the work but it has since been carried on by other mayors. Transportation and resources drive land use and density. The bus system is hierarchical and logical. …not destination oriented as we have here. Buses run on schedule because of a unique station design that allows users to pay and be at the same level of the bus when it arrives. People are given land to encourage areas around the river to be free for drainage and cleansing of the water. Citizenship centers create small, empowered municipalities around the city….very unlike our disenfranchised and unpaid Community Boards. Food is given for garbage collection. Water drains into areas set aside in parks to control storm water overflow. I could go on and on…..+ I visited last year to see if it was really true and was.

I am continually frustrated with the lack of strategic planning and lack of plain common sense when it comes to planning decisions in New York City. In Greenpoint/Wburg-why place 30 story towers on the water’s edge, leaving a mere 40’ for public use, where there is no transportation? Why expand the Javits along the water’s edge (go up, go inland, put it at the airport where it belongs!), blocking Hell’s Kitchen South from access to the water’s edge that was promised many years ago? Why allow a plan for building in Atlantic Yards that emulates the “projects” and has no tendable private and no tenable public space…no matter how zooty the exterior cladding may be? What ever could possess City Planners- OUR city- to pay large, cataclysmically (per Jacobs) funded developers to take over public space – in Jamaica, Queens, in Hell’s Kitchen and to use the right of eminent domain as well in Atlantic Yards? Why not encourage the larger developments to take the lead in storm water retention….and empower local people to do so by giving them options to grow gardens in open space? Didn’t we take away significant areas of open space/ storm drainage retention by allowing the rooftops of parking lots and not for profit organizations to be counted as open space? Sorry to go on and on but these and many other questions have been asked by better minds than mine and, really, should be answered.

Michele Bertomen

Good, but How about the Real Jacobs, and the Real Moses?

It is always fascinating when New York planning historians and geographers start poking holes in the epistemologically entrenched Jacobs/Moses (or antimodern/modern, or local/regional, or urban/suburban) dialectic. As Smith and Larson point out here, what gets left out of this dialectic is probably the very thing that is most consequential. Pitching the "Jacobsian sidewalk" against the "Mosesian expressway" -- one historiographic cliche against another -- serves only to elide the extraordinary demise, since the late 1960s, of New York City's once cutting-edge manufacturing sector and vibrant working-class political culture.

Still, Smith and Larson would do well to clarify the distinction between the way in which the Jacobs-Moses dialectic has been produced -- by subsequent historians, opinion-makers, theorists, planners, geographers, politicians, writers, and so on -- and the actual political positions that the -real- Jacobs and the -real- Moses stood for.

I think the authors will find that Jacobs thought far more carefully and critically about working-class political life than the subsequent "pro-gentrification" version of Jacobs lets on. In "Death and Life," for instance, Jacobs advocates the removal of single-passenger sedans from city streets -- not to make room for cafe-going yuppy pedestrians, but to make room for freight-bearing trucks. Nothing could be further from Bloomberg's congestion pricing scheme. Moreover, though Jacobs has become best known for her role in stopping Moses' proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, her 1978 position on the West Side Elevated Highway was the same as Moses' had been -- to maintain the existing structure, not to bury it (as Nelson Rockefeller advocated) and not to simply erase it (as eventually happened).

With Moses, of course, there is no record of any kind of leftist advocacy. Moses' vision of the city was entirely bourgeois. Like nearly everyone in his generation of American planners and bureaucrats, he assumed the perpetual growth of an increasingly comfortable middle class, whose power would come to rival that of a non-expansive capitalist elite.

Yet, unlike today's neoliberal boosters, Moses saw this expansive middle class as split between the manufacturing and service sectors -- in other words, as both blue-collar and white-collar. He did not anticipate, nor plan for, the urban hegemony of the service sector after 1980. Contrary to Moses analyses from marxist historians like Smith, Robert Fitch, or Marshall Berman, Moses did not understand planning as a servant of the city's finance-sector capitalist elite. Rather, he saw planning as a means of holding the power of both capital and labor in check. This intent is born out not only in his gestures for and against the FIRE sector (FIRE rallied around his metropolitan park system expansion, but resisted his proposed Brooklyn-Battery Bridge), but also his gestures for and against manufacturing (the 40s and 50s construction of truck-bearing expressways suggests Moses came to regard highways as more industrial than recreational).

What we can take away from both Jacobs and Moses is the failure, in New York, of both planners and intellectuals -- whether left or right -- to even so much as advocate a major infrastructural overhaul geared towards developing the city's once-dynamic manufacturing culture. For marxists, it surely makes more sense to rally around this frustrated political-economic possibility than around Moses' grudgingly built (if impressively numerous) lower-income housing projects, which do nothing today but house a structurally disenfranchised class (this is not say that public housing should be sold off, but rather that rallying around public housing is not sufficient as a political position). And the same applies for Jacobs. Rather than lending historiographic credence to the neoliberal distortions of her arguments, it probably would be best to go back to her actual writings and discover -- lo! -- a thinker who had come closer than anyone else in her era to understanding why the old leftist vision of the city was slipping away.

Jacob Shell

Wow, great post.

I've never felt the need to congratulate anyone on a post before, but I think this really highlights an important forgotten component of this recurring conversation in planning.

Infrastructure For Manufacturing?

I am curious about what infrastructure overhaul you would recommend to revive New York's manufacturing sector.

My own first reaction is that the decline of NY's manufacturing is not a matter of infrastructure but of wage levels. One hundred years ago, NY had lots of people working at subsistence wages and living in slums. By the mid-twentieth century, NY's wages and cost of living had increased, and manufacturing jobs were moving to places where there were lower wages: eg, garment manufacturing moved to Pennsylvania or to the south. Today, manufacturing is moving to places where wages are far lower, such as China.

I can see how we might change that with protective tarriffs, but I don't see how infrastructure could make NY wages competitive with Chinese or Indonesian wages. You can build expressways and zone to accommodate manufacturing, but how do you get people to buy the NY products instead of cheaper imported products?

Charles Siegel

Urban Manufacturing

If high labor wages spell doom for manufacturing areas, how to explain the vibrant, competitive manufacturing sectors in countries like Germany, Sweden and Japan, where wages are quite high compared with China, Indonesia, or even the U.S.?

The explanation is that such countries do not even try to compete with the absurdly low wages in places like China and Indonesia. They opt instead to focus on the kinds of high end industries -- cars, computers, bio-tech, etc -- that depend for their survival upon a highly skilled, comfortable, innovative workforce. The U.S. could be doing the same. In fact, New York City -was- doing the same, up until the 1970s. Developing the city's high-end industries would have been a matter not of keeping wages low but of dealing with the acute traffic problem caused by a dense and populous goods-handling economy.

Urban Manufacturing

What, exactly, do we mean by urban manufacturing and industry today? In San Francisco as in New York, heavy manufacturing has largely departed for places with cheaper labor and land. But San Francisco’s Planning Department uses the term “Production, Distribution and Repair” (PDR) to describe businesses that account for 11% of the city’s total employment (68,000 jobs). Centered in small and medium-sized firms, PDR businesses include printing and publishing, garment manufacturing, specialty foods (catering and food processing), graphic design, furniture manufacture, transportation, warehousing, wholesaling, construction, auto repair and waste management (materials re-use is the manufacturing of the future). They generally pay high wages—in in many cases to people with limited education, often engage in high-value-added production and frequently use high-tech. This is industry for our so-called post-industrial economy. PDR businesses are mostly tenants and thus vulnerable to the real estate market, since only a few can afford office or residential rents. The boom drove many of them out of town and/or out of business. But many remain, and their work is crucial to the city’s dominant sectors—tourism and services.

Today San Francisco is under heavy pressure to convert land occupied by PDR businesses to residential uses, i.e., high-end condominiums. Only 14% of such land is zoned for industry. At the same time, housing is incompatible with many PDR activities, which may involve noise, truck traffic, hazardous materials and bad smells. The city’s planning department has proposed a plan, the Eastern Neighborhoods Program, that will allow for more housing, for mixed uses that permit PDR that fits in a residential environment (graphic design, for example) and for industry-only zones. This summer, the plan has been moving through the city’s approval processes, not without controversy (no surprise).

In like manner, New York and Boston have lost most of their “traditional” (heavy) manufacturers but retain a significant number of industrial businesses that are essential to the functionality of their respective economies. As in San Francisco, those businesses are threatened by the inflated real estate values generated by the finance, insurance and retail sector, as well as the push for luxury housing. Only appropriate zoning and deep official commitment can assure the future of our cities’ “back street” enterprises and the diverse and vibrant urban places that they provision.

To that end, by the way, in April 2005, as New York’s city council was deliberating the rezoning of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, Jane Jacobs sent Mayor Bloomberg a letter urging him to “do the right thing” and support the community-devised plan that, unlike the city staff’s “ambush” in behalf of “visually tiresome, unimaginative and imitative luxury project towers,” did not “destroy hundreds of manufacturing jobs, desperately needed by New York citizens and by the city’s stagnating and stunted manufacturing economy.”

Zelda Bronstein

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