I really enjoyed the Jane Jacobs exhibition today. It was small but well put together. The first room laid out Jacobs’ four principles of urban planning (mixed uses, short city blocks, concentrations of people, and a mix of new and old buildings). A lot of the print and photos on the walls were immediately recognizable from her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Along side that were current examples from New York City (the book was published in 1961). Cleverly, the exhibit made use of one of the windows in the room overlooking the busy street below (I’m not sure exactly which street it was, but in the vicinity of 51st and Madison). On plexi-glass placed in front of the window each of the four principles were printed with lines seemingly pointed at various parts of the street below. It invited the viewer to consider the street below and how well it fit with Jacobs’ ideas. In fact, most of the exhibit was centered on inviting the museum goer to consider his or her own neighborhood in relation to the concepts presented.
The second room was all about activism, both by Jane Jacobs and current groups and individuals. One pamphlet available was called “Can One Person Change the City?” and it laid out the eight steps you can take to get involved with your neighborhood.
I especially liked a video that showed two high school students giving a tour of their neighborhoods. One a boy from Williamsburg and another a boy from a housing project in the Bronx. The contrast exemplified perfectly what Jacobs was all about.
I went to college in Arizona and studied Jane Jacobs in my architecture and urban planning classes. Reading her work made me want to live in New York so badly and highlighted everything I hated about Arizona. My parents thought I was quirky when I went on about “sprawling chaos” in Phoenix. Cities just make sense to me. The first real city I lived in was Florence, Italy. Thinking about how Jane Jacobs described the “city ballet” in her neighborhood in Greenwich Village, I wrote about the city ballet that I encountered every day on my walk to school from one side of Florence across the Arno to the other. I still think about it.
I can imagine living somewhere other than here and hearing about this exhibition wishing that I could go. But here I am in NYC. I’ve been really soaking in the pleasures of urban life lately. I really feel like this is where I am supposed to be.
Cool exhibits to visit on a Saturday . . . just another reason why I love living in New York.