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Cities are a “clash of scales”

NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff on the legacy of Jane Jacobs and why her views on cities aren’t universally applicable:

The activists of Ms. Jacobs’s generation may have saved SoHo from Mr. Moses’ bulldozers, but they could not stop it from becoming an open-air mall. The old buildings are still there, the streets are once again paved in cobblestone, but the rich mix of manufacturers, artists and gallery owners has been replaced by homogenous crowds of lemming-like shoppers. Nothing is produced there any more. It is a corner of the city that is nearly as soulless, in its way, as the superblocks that Ms. Jacobs so reviled.

But I have a hard time believing โ€” as Mr. Ouroussoff does โ€” that:

…on an urban island packed with visual noise, the plaza at Lincoln Center โ€” or even at the old World Trade Center โ€” can be a welcome contrast in scale, a moment of haunting silence amid the chaos. Similarly, the shimmering glass towers that frame lower Park Avenue are awe-inspiring precisely because they offer a sharp contrast to the quiet tree-lined streets of the Upper East Side.

Surely we can devise better ways of introducing contrasts in scale into our cities than building Lincoln Centers.

Ouroussoff’s article includes a companion audio slideshow of him talking about Jacobs and also of West Village residents sharing their views on their neighborhood that Jacbos lived in and wrote about long ago.