May 15, 2005

NYT’s James Traub Is Wrong

In the N.Y. Times Sunday magazine issue on Modernism, James Traub sees just two options available in mainstream urban planning: the neutron-bomb-like results of Modernism, where buildings on steroids ravage urban streetscapes and kill off pedestrian activity; or what he calls Jane Jacobs's "image of a city of stable, small-scale enclaves .... [T]he organic and folkloric alternative [to Modernism] offers us a city in amber -- the urban equivalent of the retro baseball stadium."

Not so! There are in fact urban settings that combine tall buildings with a thriving streetscape. In Manhattan, for instance, 59th Street at Central Park is a nice mix of traditional urban buildings with street life and open space. And I think there's a lot to be said for Rockefeller Center, where the masses of tall buildings didn't completely kill off street life throughout the neighborhood. In Boston, while the Prudential Center kind of deadens pedestrian activity on much of its side of Boylston Street, the Hancock building co-exists with street activity in Copley Square.

However, Traub is unfortunately dead on in this observation: "Today, New York is one of the very few American cities where the street matters enough that the problem bears thinking about."

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