Tracing journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs's fight to stop Robert Moses from demolishing New York's historic neighbourhoods in pursuit of his modernist vision in the 60s.
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Cities are, in many ways,
the greatest invention that human beings have brought the world.
Cities have been expanding and urbanisation has been expanding on
the globe in an exponential fashion.
we are urbanising people on the planet at maybe one and half million
people every week.
In less than two months,
there'll be the equivalent to another Los Angeles
metropolitan area on this planet.
This scale and speed of urbanisation
has never, ever happened in human history.
This is the first time.
When you look at what is being built in cities,
you have endless, endless,
row after row, of homogenising towers.
And you see more and more highways.
At this moment, you're going to
shape the cities for generations to come.
People need to realise this is an
opportunity which will never come again.
There are a couple of ways of approaching the design of cities.
The question is always - who decides
what the physical form will be...
..how the city is going to function...
..and who is going to live in the city?
In order to understand what's happening today...
..we need to think about two great figures
in the middle of the 20th century,
who embodied the struggle for the city.
The legendary power broker, Robert Moses,
who represented the authority of the great man who was going to come into
the city with his carving knife
and clear away the cancerous tissue...
..and replace it with the shiny implements of modernist planning.
You have to move a lot of people out of the way of a big housing project
or slum-clearance project.
A lot of them are not going to like it.
Many of them are misinformed.
In opposition to the homogenising clarity of Moses was Jane Jacobs.
I have very little faith...
even the kind of person who prefers
to take a large,
overall view of things.
Jacobs was an outsider.
She believed the city is not about buildings, the city is about people.
It is about public spaces and the street
and she stood up for that.
She evolved both a theory of what made a good and just city and a
theory of opposition to the kind of
planning practice that Moses represented.
There's a prudishness, a fear of life,
a wish to direct things from some
uncontaminated refuge, that is part and parcel of their bad plan.
They were famously at odds with each other.
It really did become a war between opposing forces.
Today, we're still fighting these battles across the world.
When we look across the spectrum of all the problems generated by
urbanisation, there is the
extraordinary realisation that, my gosh,
you know, these have been problems that have been around for the last
100 years in cities.
New York, of course, is the greatest example of that.
In the 1930s,
New York was the world's greatest city, you know?
A very special place.
Just the exuberance of metropolitan life in the early 20th century.
That's, you know, the great age of the first real, great skyscrapers,
you know, the Empire State Building is at the very climax of that.
But then it all kind of crashes with the Depression.
Through the entire decade of the '30s,
it's just one problem after another.
Now, this is an unfortunate period for the city.
We've done an immense amount to cure these diseases and we have much more
Robert Moses started to work in an era, where we had a great many
people living in truly horrible conditions.
He began his professional life in opposition to those conditions.
Moses emerged out of the progressive movement early in the
20th-century in New York.
The progressives were eager to improve the city.
His early work in developing public parks and public beaches was about
making life better for people who were not rich.
Now, if we don't clean out these slums,
the central areas are going to rot.
And it's all nonsense to say that the problem can be solved by
rehabilitating and fixing up Old Law Tenements.
It can't be done.
That problem, we've got to face.
Just about every progressive believed that the way to solve the
city's problems was to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.
We didn't understand how high the price was,
how we were giving up so many things that were so very important,
until Jane Jacobs came along.
I just loved coming to New York.
It was inexhaustible.
Just to walk around its streets and wonder at it.
So many streets different,
so many neighbourhoods different, so much going on.
She lived in Greenwich Village,
and just viscerally felt the pulse of the city,
and was extraordinarily intuitive, was extremely observant.
New York was a place where you don't have to be big and important and
rich or have a great plot of land
or a great development scheme or something like that,
to do something,
and maybe even do something new and do something interesting.
A place that has scope for all kinds of people.
What she saw was the soul of New York and what it meant to be a city,
and a city meaning a community of people.
After the war,
the most sensational thing that came was the full flowering of
this vision of the expressway tower city.
This generation of idealistic city planners comes along
and they are infected with the modernist purity idea.
And they certainly have the tools at their disposal to sweep away large
tracts of land.
We recognise the problems your community faces,
and we know that you share them with hundreds of cities everywhere.
Now, what's involved in making your city a better place?
Well, things like housing,
better streets and highways.
Improving all these things adds up to a better city.
I'm sure that you will see the exciting opportunity that exists for
your city to become better.
The planners conceiving these urban renewal projects are doing this from
that godlike vantage point in the sky.
To be able to look down,
and you're able to imagine massive transformations.
They thought that applying the logic
of the machine age was going to do that.
The problem had to be solved by some supervisor noticing where the slums
were, noticing where the traffic was, and going in and bulldozing...
..and building grand projects.
Well, we got out a brochure just now,
telling when everybody has to move.
Robert Moses was the great embodiment of this.
I don't honestly believe that,
considering the large numbers of people we have had to move out the
way of public housing and other public improvements,
I don't believe that we've done any very substantial amount of harm.
There must be people who are discommoded,
inconvenienced, or call it what you will,
on the old theory that you can't
make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
After the Second World War, Robert Moses began to amass power.
He was the longest Parks Commissioner in the city of New York,
and he got power to build parkways,
and was appointed the city's construction coordinator.
He built thousands of apartments.
He became urban renewal tsar,
the head of the mayor's committee on slum clearance.
By the time that Moses was running the urban renewal programme,
we had torn down, literally,
thousands of tenement buildings in cities like New York and Chicago.
You know, there is the prewar Moses and the post-war Moses.
The prewar Moses was mostly an angel.
Post-war Moses was increasingly problematic.
For nearly half a century, this man has pushed people around New York.
Almost anybody who is anybody has cursed him, fought him,
knuckled under to him and admired him.
The list of his adversaries include Franklin Roosevelt, Fannie Hurst,
Elmer Davis, who once compared him to Hitler,
Walter O'Malley and hundreds of
thousands of landowners who thought
their property was sacred.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely,
and Robert Moses was absolutely powerful.
So, he had amassed not simply an incredibly amount of power,
but had insulated himself from oversight by political authorities
and by the broader public.
Don't forget that it is one thing to buy a park or a great big chunk of
land from one owner,
it's quite another thing to get a right of way where hundreds and even
thousands of people own it.
and according to some of the goo-goos and uplift organisations,
we are to negotiate with every individual until he's happy.
Can you imagine when you build anything under those conditions?
Moses, along with all of the people who were involved in the urban
renewal programme, had an agreed-upon agenda.
People needed adequate housing, adequate recreation facilities,
and the motor car was coming to America and it needed to be
accommodated on a large scale.
That was the agenda.
Moses became one polar view of what you could do...
Until, all of sudden, there was an alternative.
Jane Jacobs has, in The Death And Life Of Great American Cities,
written a book that advances with the controlled and implacable power
of a bulldozer against modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding.
I first began to look into city planning and housing,
and it was unbelievably awful.
When Death And Life comes out in the '60s, it's a clarion call.
It's Martin Luther nailing those 95 theses to the cathedral door.
The book is really the first cogent,
accessible articulation of a whole set of ideas that questions the
mainstream thinking about our cities.
She is constantly probing.
By that example, she is saying, "You, reader,
"you have the ability to question."
Middle-income housing projects which are truly marvels of dullness and
regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life.
Luxury housing projects that mitigate their inanity, or try to,
with a vapid vulgarity.
Cultural centres that are unable to support a good book store.
Civic centres that that are avoided by everyone but bums,
who have fewer choices of loitering place than others.
Expressways that eviscerate great cities.
She was questioning orthodoxy, and in essence saying,
the emperor has no clothes,
at a time when women were not
welcomed in those kinds of environments.
If you want to see what kind of a city can flourish,
you need to look at the cities where it is happening.
There must be a lot of diversity.
Continually building up diversity of kinds of work.
Diversity of kinds of people.
She revealed the way to create better cities is by working with the
people who live there and the fabric that existed.
The traditional fabric that people inhabited.
There have to be areas of the city which people use a lot,
walking on the streets, and
use at all times of day.
Jane understood neighbourhoods need lots of connections.
Short blocks and lots of turns,
allowing different kinds of interaction.
Neighbourhoods need a mix of buildings, old and new.
They need diverse uses, 24/7,
so that they're safer.
Constant connection with neighbourhoods around,
so that you are not isolated.
You need public spaces that are accessible to people.
It's all a great network in the city.
It's all related.
She observed these early qualities,
at a time when housing was being built in the completely
opposite direction. They were isolating communities.
They were creating dead-end streets.
They were separating work uses and recreation and residential uses.
She was explaining how life worked.
Before Death And Life, she was a journalist.
She was a very savvy observer of human behaviour,
of places, of cities.
Jacobs started writing about the city when she was 18 years old.
She was a secretary for a candy company.
She was determined to write on the side.
She did what any good, enterprising writer would do -
she got freelance jobs.
Her curiosity was so remarkable.
She writes about specific economic districts in the city.
She does the Jewellery district, she does the Fur District,
she does the Flower District. She develops a voice,
and where does she sell them to?
She was writing pieces about what she was observing and seeing in
The best way to plan for Downtown
is to see how people use it today.
There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city.
People make it.
And it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.
She's curious, she's got a really good craft.
She knows how to write.
And she finds herself on a staff job with Architectural Forum.
And this is Jacobs, an associate editor of the magazine
Architectural Forum, who has been a
New Yorker for 27 years, and loves it. Mrs Jane Jacobs.
Thank you very much.
One fine day,
Architectural Forum put me on an assignment about some urban renewal
projects that were being done,
in Philadelphia, as a matter of fact.
We have found, in our work in rebuilding Philadelphia,
that a central design idea,
well-developed and clearly expressed,
can of itself become a major creative force and can make more
meaningful the work of individual architects
in various parts of an area.
I find out what they had in mind and what they were planning to do,
and how it was going to look according to the drawings,
and what great things it was going to accomplish.
I came back and wrote enthusiastic articles about this.
All was well. I was in very cosy with the planners and the
project builders. Anyhow,
time passed and some of these things were actually built.
Society Hill is residential.
The oldest part of the city, it is
the site of an intensive restoration project.
Houses, many predating the American Revolution,
slowly had grown dilapidated, and had been converted to other uses.
In addition, there was room for new,
dramatically contemporary apartment towers.
Society Hill emerges as a combination of ancient and modern.
But they didn't work at all the way they should have worked.
The city around them, didn't react, the way, theoretically,
the city around them should have reacted.
She is the hypersensitive antennae, you know,
that's picking up something here that no-one else is seeing.
Why did stores that looked very cheerful and were supposed to be
doing a great and booming business in the plans,
actually go empty or languish?
Well, I would bring these questions up with the people who had been
responsible for the planning of these places...
..and I got quite a lot of alibis, boiling down to, "People are stupid,
"they don't do what they are supposed to do."
And this was a great shock to me.
Never mind highfalutin theories and so forth, what are we looking at,
what are we seeing?
Do you want to trust some theory
that somebody figured out sitting in an office
somewhere or do you want to trust what you actually see out there
with your own eyes? Maybe the
experts didn't really know as much as they pretended to know.
About this time, a gentleman came into the office of the
Architectural Forum. He was very much worried about East Harlem.
of city rebuilding money had been put to work.
He could see that their problems were growing greater than they had
ever been in the past.
She goes up to Harlem and she gets taken around by William Kirk of the
Union Settlement House and he's
showing her all the things that are
being lost in this community, what is being demolished.
He would walk me around East Harlem.
We would stop in at stores, stop in at housing projects.
I began to see that just out of the accumulation of all of this,
I was beginning to understand how things worked.
Many little details of cause and effect.
She describes it as the very beginning,
the sort of moment when the light bulb kind of went off in her head.
What I was seeing, in fact, was what
makes the very intricate order of the city.
This has to do with a quality that's called, rather vaguely, urbanism.
Cities are extremely physical places.
It's not an inert mass.
It's enterprises and people reacting in certain ways to each other and
mutually supporting each other.
And wherever it worked properly,
there seemed to be an awful lot of diversity.
Many different kinds of enterprises, many different kinds of people,
mutually supporting and supplementing each other.
Jane Jacobs is thinking about - how does a neighbourhood work?
How does a street work? What functions does a sidewalk play?
What she's really after is a new theory of how cities function.
In The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, she's asking -
what is the problem of a city?
She argues the city is a problem of organised complexity.
Looks on the surface
like it's complex and disordered
but in fact there's an underlying structure.
It looks like chaos but in fact there's a balance,
there's a productive mix of different functions and organisms.
She draws on ecological metaphors, biological metaphors,
to suggest how it's really an ecosystem.
The leaves dropping from the trees in the autumn,
the interior of an aeroplane engine...
..the entrails of a dissected rabbit...
..the city desk of a newspaper...
..all appear to be chaos...
..if they are seen without comprehension.
Once they are seen as systems of order, they actually look different.
Jacobs understood - when cities really work,
they're phenomena that come from the bottom up.
So a great neighbourhood is what happens when thousands of different
actors - and that's the shopkeepers, the bar owners,
the people walking the streets...
They spontaneously come together in an uncoordinated but meaningful way,
to create the kind of flavour and personality of a distinct neighbourhood.
That's not planned, that's much more a question of organised complexity.
Planners, they don't see any of the wondrous human qualities that Jacobs
is seeing. The very forms of urbanism that she wrote about,
the urban renewal-ists sought to destroy.
What would you do for Harlem?
The slum corner of Harlem, I'd take that and all the other similar slums,
I'd tear them all out, every bit of them.
It's a cancerous thing and you've just got to wipe them out.
I say that if you have a cancerous growth, Phil, it has to be carved out.
All right, you've carved it out, now you've replaced it with something new.
Yes, that's right. Something that's decent,
something that involves light and
air and new schools and playgrounds and parks.
And I say that's a hell of a big contribution and certainly all the
contribution that I would be able to make with all the people I can
persuade to make it.
Instead of following the natural way that people used space,
city planning in this post-war era, and modern architecture,
created this abstract vision of what it should be,
concentrated on the utopian and the ideal.
In the 1920s, you get the rise of this curious,
mystical figure out of Switzerland, who calls himself Le Corbusier.
He's done some architecture and he's thinking himself not only an
architect but a great urban visionary.
Le Corbusier envisioned tearing down huge sections of Paris...
..and replacing it with slabs, modern slabs, cruciform buildings.
He proposed superhighways
that went through green, open space...
..and they were going to terminate in super blocks and the super blocks
had high-rise buildings, and the high-rise buildings were so that people could have
light and air and could get out of the slums.
And he was thoroughly of the opinion that if you had good architecture,
the lives of people would be improved and that architects improved people and
people would improve architecture
until perfectibility would descend on us
like the Holy Ghost and we'd be happy for ever after.
Corb did this plan and made his models and it excited a lot of
people, but in France they weren't so excited.
The idea of the La Ville radieuse and the tower in a park ended up moving to America,
just like the rest of modernism did.
The public housing model that we picked in the United States was a
misinterpretation of Le Corbusier.
The towers in his 1923 plan were for offices and then around the towers
were low, seven-storey buildings with generous balconies.
He never called for people living in high-rise towers.
It was one of those odd moments where a set of intellectual ideas
could be corrupted very quickly and easily into something cheap and commercial.
The simplest formula to make quick money is modernism.
It was very cheap,
very quick to produce and could suddenly enable huge amounts of
building to happen very quickly.
And Robert Moses totally understood that.
The one thing missing completely from that vision is streets and the
idea that a street is something you actually walk on and a street is a
place where things happen.
Jane Jacobs saw that at a time when everybody else
was thinking the sidewalk was a kind of foolish leftover of another age.
There must be eyes upon the street.
Eyes belonging to those we may call the natural proprietors of the street.
The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to ensure
the safety of both residents and
strangers, must be oriented to the street.
They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it
and leave it blind.
Philosophically, what she recognised was - safety doesn't come from armed
security guards blocking the entrances.
What makes a neighbourhood great is precisely the fact that there
ARE people on the street.
The sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously.
Both to add to the numbers of effective eyes on the street and to
induce the people in the buildings along the street to watch the
sidewalks in sufficient numbers.
Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window on an empty street.
She went out and looked at things.
When she said that the doormen were paid eyes on the street and that the
same thing could happen from bars on the street in West Village,
I understood what she was talking about.
Nobody has to worry about things, where there are a lot of people on
Jane Jacobs reverses the vantage point.
What is it like actually to live in these places from street level?
And it's that simple change of perspective that led her away from
the orthodoxy of the time.
Robert Moses had no interest, really,
in paying attention to what was there in neighbourhoods.
What was there, he viewed as simply an obstacle to what he wanted to
People oppose Moses all the time.
Whether he wanted Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts,
a bridge across the entrance to the New York harbour,
a parking lot where mothers air their babies in Central Park,
a highway down the spine of Fire Island or one through the
middle of Washington Square,
vehement opposition was what he expected and what he got.
Oh, well, there's opposition to everything that's progressive,
everything that's new.
The opinion of people who were activists,
as we were in the Village,
were Robert Moses was terrible and Robert Moses was destroying the city
and Robert Moses had to be stopped.
Jane got involved in several efforts to stop Robert Moses from ripping
the city to pieces, starting with
his attempt to run Fifth Avenue down through Washington Square.
The first time I became aware of the threat of what the highways were
doing and could do to New York was
when along came the plan to push Fifth Avenue
through Washington Square Park and down below it,
as a continuous street.
They wanted to have the Fifth Avenue buses go through the park, down into
West Broadway and change the name of that to Fifth Avenue South,
so as to make it more valuable for
rents and that was a Robert Moses project.
This wasn't in the abstract, for Jane Jacobs,
this was happening close to home, right in her back yard.
This was where she brought her kids in strollers, to play in that park.
This is the circle. On weekdays,
it's a wading pool for Village kids but on
Sundays the water is turned off and
the circle becomes a meeting place for
guitarists, bongo and banjo players, Villagers on a stroll,
folk singers and tourists.
To me and to many others, we were outraged about a road going through
Washington Square and we were going to save Washington Square Park.
Washington Square was really Jane Jacobs'
beginning as a civic activist.
All of the activists, myself included,
were involved in trying to stop that.
The leaders there included Jane Jacobs and Charlie Hayes.
Jane was not deferential to power,
so she ups the ante on that Washington Square fight and says,
"I'm going to write the mayor."
I have heard with alarm and almost with disbelief,
the plans to run a sunken highway through the centre of Washington Square.
My husband and I are amongst the
citizens who truly believe in New York,
to the extent that we have bought a home in the heart of the city and
remodelled it with a lot of hard work.
It is very discouraging to do our best to make the city more habitable
and then to learn that the city itself is thinking up schemes to
make it uninhabitable.
Jane's example that she set for herself
is an example for other people to follow.
If a highway is coming
through that's going to be very destructive
and you know it's an idiotic thing, you fight that highway.
Protest against the stultification and the status quo,
and things that touch you and your neighbourhood directly.
I think she was effective because of the force of her personality and the
fact that she was able to mobilise a lot of people.
Margaret Mead, Susan Sontag,
all the various folks that Jane was involved with, were drawn to the
tangibility of this particular fight.
We have too many critics, we have too many mud throwers, too many
people who foul their nest and know it all - that's not trouble.
Too many people sitting around calling names, like Mumford, people like that...
What do they contribute?
You have any problem to solve, any difficulty,
never call upon them.
Call upon them for four-letter words.
They don't even have very good vocabulary, in my book.
Robert Moses wasn't used to anybody saying no to him.
He would fire off these letters to people of Greenwich Village.
I realised that in the process of rebuilding south of Washington Square
there would be cries of anguish from those who are honestly convinced the
Sistine Madonna was painted in the basement of one of the old buildings
there. Not presently occupied by a cabaret or speakeasy.
That Michelangelo's David was fashioned in a garret in
the same neighbourhood.
And that anyone who lays hands on the sacred landmarks will be
executed if he has not already been struck down by a bolt from heaven.
They managed to show Moses as this bully,
and they got a lot of important people on their side,
including Eleanor Roosevelt.
I would feel very strongly that destroying the square by putting
a large artery for traffic through the square,
would harm not only the square
itself but the whole neighbourhood and, really, the city.
I am not opposed to change, in fact, I believe in change.
But I think that good tradition has to be preserved.
Jacobs was a brilliant strategist when it came to civil action.
She had a real sense for the photo op.
In Washington Square Park,
she arranged for her daughter and another girl to conduct a
ribbon-tying ceremony. This, of course,
was the opposite of a ribbon cutting ceremony that politicians
love to celebrate with public works.
At one of the hearings,
where Moses was foolish enough to say that nobody is against this
except a bunch of mothers!
How could he be so tactless?
Only if you think people don't matter at all,
could you make a statement like that!
She was a housewife, that's how they treated her.
I mean, of course, she was a professional journalist that was not somehow...
When you wanted to dismiss her, you would just stay -"Who's this
"housewife from Hudson Street?"
Try to mess with a bunch of mothers.
I think that he underestimated what the effectiveness of these mothers
might in fact be. Literally thousands of people turned to...
And it took quite a few years, but did save it.
It ended up being an extraordinarily potent opposition,
which he had never met before.
Moses had never met this before.
He had his... He had it coming.
Washington Square Park was certainly the first public defeat for
Robert Moses, and it was a major chink in his armour.
The battle over Washington Square is Jane's first taste of victory.
Not long after the Washington Square victory,
Death And Life is published.
And Bennett Cerf, head of Random House, sends a copy to Robert Moses.
And Moses sends it back.
I am returning the book you sent me.
Aside from the fact it is intemperate and
inaccurate, it is also libellous.
I call your attention, for example, to page 131.
He didn't even want to recognise
the existence of the book or of Jane.
Others were also not charitable, including Lewis Mumford.
Lewis Mumford, the great architectural critic for The New Yorker,
his famous review of her book had the title -
Mother Jacobs' Home Remedies.
He is immediately telling you that Jane Jacobs was just this sweet old lady
trying to get some homoeopathic medicine into the city,
instead of doing the serious surgery that a real doctor would do.
Right around the time of Death and Life of Great American Cities,
ironically, her own neighbourhood, the West Village,
the very neighbourhood she had proclaimed as a model for what
neighbourhoods could be, was earmarked for urban renewal.
Moses was Commissioner of Housing in the urban renewal effort to build
more public housing in New York City.
He actually stepped down from that position, but before he did,
he designated the West Village as eligible for slum designation.
I got the book finished, finally.
And thought, "Ah, now I can think about something else."
And for three weeks, I did think about other things.
Then I opened the New York Times one morning and found that our own
area of the West Village was going
to have an urban renewal project in it.
She really didn't think of herself as a community organiser,
as a street fighter, she was a writer. She didn't appreciate the distraction,
she really didn't, but she knew she had to do it.
She was sad, I mean, she would shrug her shoulders and say, "What can I do?"
You know that thing about an inert object?
Well, there is nothing more inert than a government bureau.
There is nothing more inert than a planning office.
It gets going, in one direction,
and it's never going to change of its own accord.
So I suddenly had to put into practice my own premises that if
anything was going to happen to reverse the way things were being done,
then the citizens had to take some initiative and the citizens had to
frustrate the planners.
I thereupon began to devote myself to frustrating planners.
And so did the whole neighbourhood.
Jane calls a meeting of local residents at the Lion's Head,
a favourite neighbourhood hang-out,
organises people to speak at public meetings,
and gets everybody to wear
sunglasses with an X painted on them.
They were fairly sophisticated, I think,
in the tactics that they would employ,
and they are tackling somebody who has been writing for a living for a
couple of decades and knows how to make an argument.
We all knew one another and were constantly planning on how to get
the mayor on our side and threaten him, and we did, we got him on our side!
She filed a lawsuit against the city of New York,
to try to block the urban renewal plan.
I think that the time has come to put the West Village urban renewal
proposal to rest.
Promptly remove the West Village designation -
They prevailed, and at the end of the day, the slum designation never
happened in the West Village.
She effectively showed the people of Greenwich Village that they could
fight City Hall, that they did not have to accept the plans of the
planners at their drafting tables,
and that they could reject those lines being drawn around their homes.
Any city that's tearing down its buildings just to make money
for a development or
just to add novelty, is doing something criminal.
A fellow who gets to the upper storeys of a public housing project,
where he has a view.
What's the matter with him? He's got a nice place to live, hasn't he?
I think that the objection that some might have was that the view was
just of another housing development on another highway.
No, no. No, I don't concede that.
It wasn't just that they wanted new housing in place of the old,
they wanted an entirely different-looking city.
Robert Moses and his constituency, wanted it all to be very simplified,
It was the hubris of Moses and his ilk,
the idea that we're going to rearrange the spaces and therefore
we're going to rearrange the social relations.
It had to do with this towers in the park mentality,
it had to do with the creation of a new form of ghetto.
Old downtowns were being bulldozed in the name of
people but not for the people -
they were destroying lives and
replacing them with these housing projects.
And why? Because it was making a lot of people a lot of money.
It was making developers a lot of money.
Politicians a lot of money.
And it was fast money.
So they kept doing it over and over and over again,
in cities all over the country.
It was several years after Robert Moses had begun
building these projects,
that the other cities caught up.
What they were building was the Corbusian model.
You saw the kind of building of these housing projects across the
United States, you know,
25-storey, block-apartment buildings,
with playgrounds and gardens
around them, that looked great in all the drawings.
Here in bright new buildings with spacious grounds, they can live.
Live with indoor plumbing, electric lights,
fresh-plastered walls, and the rest of the conveniences that are
expected in the 20th century.
In these projects, children can play in safety on the wide lawns,
not in the littered alleys and vacant lots.
We must make sure that every family
in America lives in a home of dignity.
In a neighbourhood of pride and a
community of opportunity and a city of promise and hope.
But what ended up happening is - nobody ever hung out
in the kind of public space around these projects,
so they became these under-populated places,
and they actually very quickly became some of the most
dangerous places in the world.
This is really the worst thing about the projects.
And therefore amplified all of the
pathological and anti-social elements of poverty.
These institutions became fortressed.
You become cornered, you feel cornered, you feel trapped.
They left people more vulnerable.
Public housing became places of fear.
High-rise fortresses like these were built this way to save money.
In the long run, they didn't even do that.
The problem was that they were all wrong for the people who wound up
living in them. Rural blacks, broken families.
Allowed in and to stay in, only if their incomes were low enough.
Most of these now are engaged in something called urban renewal,
which means moving the negroes out, it means negro removal,
that is what it means.
The federal government is an accomplice to this fact.
Now, we're talking about human beings.
There is not such a thing as a monolithic wall or some abstraction
called the negro problem, these are negro boys and girls,
who at 16 and 17 don't believe the country means anything that it says,
don't feel they have any place here.
The phrase - "Urban renewal is negro removal" - was an acknowledgement by
African-Americans that this was an assault, removal in the sense of
out, over there, away, far away.
some place inhospitable, where you can just die.
And a huge part of what happened to people was that they were put in
inhospitable places and African-Americans were put in at the
margins of the city,
in places that could barely support the vital kind of life that
people need to prosper.
It's as though the builders have not realised that children would be
living there. Nor did they foresee the crime,
the vandalism, which is really the acting out of rage and self-loathing
that can make people want to destroy their own property.
People had lived in communities that were messy, but they worked.
People had social capitals,
people watched each other's child when somebody was not there.
All this was actually taken away.
People had no investment, emotionally,
people resented these projects that had been built for them
because they were poor.
You see a lot of windows broken up there.
They all were broken by children throwing rocks.
And what's more natural than children throwing rocks?
They don't have nothing else to do.
There is absolutely no recreation facilities here.
And the playground like this is a mockery for thousands of children.
Tenants had no input as to what they wanted.
It was built because somebody said,
this would be good for children to play on.
There was graffiti everywhere and there were drug problems and all the
problems you can imagine coming from when you uproot people
without their will.
And what do you expect?
That they will love these projects?
No, that wasn't going to happen.
Pruitt-Igoe, if you really see an aerial view of it,
those buildings were spaced quite a distance apart.
If you took them and threw them on their on their faces,
which is where they should have fallen,
you would get lovely housing 20-feet high!
You can take a look at a little exercise here, if these towers,
the slabs are removed from the towers,
you begin to see a different attitude of what is visible,
you begin to see through the site,
as opposed to looking at a slab of
One thing the tenants are really stressing, is for a
low-rise building closer to a home, something that they can relate to.
What we're trying to do here is to take a given situation and try to
bring it back to a community where people would want to live.
After thinking about the problem of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project,
the city planners blew it up.
Just dynamited it away.
The projects ended up being tremendous failures.
We know all about that failure now.
And everywhere they existed - 30, 40 years later,
they are all being torn down.
You can't put streets back where you took them out.
You can't put stores back,
you can't put the daily life and all the institutions.
It takes generations to build up those institutions.
That's what was eliminated by these projects.
The superblock urbanism of the modernist ilk that Jane Jacobs
writes about as destroying cities -
you also have at the very same time, the automobile being rammed through.
This causes as many problems as the urban renewal projects.
The most profound influence on the city in the last 100 years has been
The decision made almost inevitably, was to drive the freeways,
the interstates, right through the cities and through neighbourhoods,
whose value city elites and developers wanted to ultimately reclaim.
We wouldn't have any American economy
without the automobile business.
That is literally true.
To believe that this is a great industry that has to go on and has
to keep on turning out cars and trucks and buses,
then there have to be places for them to run.
There have to be modern roads.
The first of Moses' commandments for progress is - thou shalt drive.
Jane Jacobs is one of the very first
people to say the car is not supreme.
The people who walk on the sidewalk are what makes the city.
It isn't hard to understand that producing and consuming automobiles
might seem all-important to the management of Ford
and Chrysler and General Motors,
but it's harder to understand why the production and
consumption of automobiles should be the purpose of life for all the rest of us.
Moses was about realising a very particular vision of the American Dream,
that was - what's good for General Motors is good for the United States of America.
I am privileged to present the winner of the award,
Robert Moses of New York.
Robert Moses, New York City Construction Coordinator,
is a world-famous highway planner.
A man who knows his business.
What he was really doing was tearing up vital neighbourhoods, for example,
in the South Bronx, where he built the Cross Bronx Expressway.
It's just the single most destructive decision
ever made about US cities.
The Cross Bronx Expressway,
an artery whose history was marked by such gigantic problems of
construction, financing, relocation and organised obstruction,
that it took 17 years to complete.
The Cross Bronx Expressway ripped through the heart and the middle of
the Bronx, creating what was a wall between what eventually was known as
the northern and the southern part of the Bronx.
Robert Moses thought he would get away with anything.
Who was going to stop him?
He's got all the city politicians around him,
it was bringing in a lot of federal money from the
Federal Highway Programme.
And that gets passed around.
Today, our greatest single problem is tenant removal.
The tendency on the part of people in politics as well as those who are
living on these rights-of-way who are immediately affected...
is to assume that the people who are doing this job are unsympathetic
or even sadistic.
Of course, that isn't the truth at all.
But when you remove the daily life, when you remove the stores,
remove the places that constitute where they spend time,
what we would call the public realm - the sidewalks, the bars,
the grocery stores, you remove the city.
And that's what Jane Jacobs says,
you draw away the people with a prescription that is guaranteed to
Well, you have to bullet through, you've got to do it.
It's like all these things that happen with opposition.
The fact that 2,000 people come and agitate against the extension of an
expressway doesn't prove that you're not going to build the expressway.
So many of the problems of the South Bronx grew directly out of the
devastation caused by building that expressway.
Which, of course, became totally
gridlocked 15 minutes after it was open.
I mean, Moses thought he was improving the city by bringing it up to date,
by making it work for the automobile.
And as it became clear that urban highways were in fact profoundly
destructive, it really became a battle between opposing forces.
Of course, in Lower Manhattan,
Moses wanted to build a road right across
the city there. The whole Cast Iron District would have been
The Lower Manhattan Expressway was
to have connected the Holland Tunnel
with the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges.
It would have destroyed most of SoHo,
we would have lost one of the greatest inventories of 19th-century
buildings, not just in New York, but in the world.
The highways, of course,
destroyed the neighbourhoods that they went through.
Where was this going to end?
The whole place was going to be laced with highways.
What would we have left of Manhattan?
On any day of the week, if you walk along Canal Street,
and it's often faster than riding, this is what you'll see.
The crush of endless waiting traffic.
Now look at the solution -
the Lower Manhattan Expressway.
The only practical highway crossing serving the Lower Manhattan
commercial and business districts.
Can we afford to let one section of our city slowly strangle in hopeless
There was an awful campaign against that neighbourhood,
it was called Hell's Hundred Acres.
A bottled-up stagnating section of the city,
no new private buildings erected in 30 years.
A valley of economic depression.
The need is urgent.
We must have a Lower Manhattan Expressway now.
The local priest, a church on Broome Street,
had heard about Jane's successful defences fighting Moses,
and asked if she could help.
Father, what effect do you feel that
the expressway will have on the neighbourhood?
Well, the expressway will destroy the neighbourhood.
This is the worst thing about these monumental plans.
There is no way...
Old buildings can easily be torn down and new ones put up,
old things adapted to different use.
Well, that's not planning for the future.
Reminded of some of the opposition to his long-time dream for an
expressway across Lower Manhattan,
Moses was specific about what it takes to override the inevitable
roadblocks. You've got to move people, and the political leaders,
naturally, if they have people ticketed and they know where they
are and they vote right, they don't
want to move them and have them go somewhere else.
What I try to do in New York,
what we've done successfully in other places,
which is to pay more money to people, in cash.
Let them take the money and go away.
You have people who rent, they don't own it,
so what difference does it make,
when you are talking about an expressway that costs
Stop being victims.
I think it's wicked, in a way, to be a victim.
It is even wickeder to be a predator,
but it's wicked to be a victim and allow it.
You can't, as an individual, you can't do anything, but you can organise.
If you are being victimised by an expressway that a bureaucracy
is putting through for the benefit of the automobile people,
then you fight that, you refuse to be a victim of that.
What effect do you think this will have on the neighbourhood itself?
It will destroy the neighbourhood.
It's one of the few neighbourhoods where a woman can go down the
street's at night and be safe. And the women know it, and I know it.
Two or three o'clock in the morning,
the men are sitting in their cafes and they are watching you,
taking care of you. They want to build up neighbourhoods like this,
they say, "Let's get back to the old, save neighbourhoods." This is it.
"Memorandum to Arthur Hodgkiss from Robert Moses."
"The Lower Manhattan will move very soon.
"Please keep an eye on it."
Are you saying that they're trying to sneak it through?
I would say it's a safe bet.
If this thing is passed,
these are how these things happen if they are not watched.
It's a sleeper. Who do you think is pushing this?
There's only one man that I can think of could be pushing it.
They seem to think they have a choice, that they'd rather stay in
the houses that they've lived in all this time.
..the whole Federal Arterial Aid programme running into billions
of dollars, depend upon the votes of a very few people in one section,
we wouldn't build anything, nothing would be built.
There would be no highways, there would be no housing,
there would be no public improvements.
Please do not build this express highway.
Most of these people consider automobiles
more than the human being.
It is not right.
I think it's awful, I don't think it's fair.
I do not think it's very good.
Cos I live there, I look at my window,
the trucks, and cars and everything, they don't need an expressway.
What are they going to do? Throw me in the street?
After 51 years, I'm a citizen and everything.
It's something awful to think every day they are going to throw
you out. I think it's awful, they make a mistake.
I hope God has to be damn strict, that's what I hope.
Goodbye, and thank you.
There was going to be a defining hearing in which they would approve
the Expressway. And Jane said, "When they discuss this issue,
"I'm going to get up and I'm going to speak against it."
I went up to the microphone, I was very angry.
They weren't listening to us, they had made their decision,
that was clear. There were really only errand boys who had no power
to make decisions.
So, we had better let them take back a message.
We would never stand for this Expressway.
I intended just to climb up to their level and walk across the stage.
There was a steno typist who had a new machine.
She was frightened and she picked up her steno type machine
and clasped it to her bosom.
The tapes fell out of the machine
and ran across the floor like confetti.
People began tossing it in the air.
I knew it had to be brought to an end, so an inspiration struck me.
I said, "There is no hearing because the record is gone,
"and without a record there cannot be a hearing."
The Chief State person was saying,
"Arrest that woman, arrest that woman!"
As I went out, the police captain told me that I was arrested.
The police were very apologetic.
They knew who she was and what was going on.
She was charged with three felonies,
which is pretty rotten for what she did.
What did she do? She didn't hurt anybody.
She became the hero
and the politics did shift at that point.
The board of estimate in an executive session today
voted unanimously to turn down a
proposal for a Lower Manhattan Expressway.
The board... APPLAUSE
That was the decisive moment.
And Moses couldn't do anything, he was just a pure villain,
the politicians were villains.
At that point, it was clear that
no politician was going to get away with this.
The Lower Manhattan Expressway
was really the beginning of the end for Robert Moses.
Robert Moses was finally squeezed out by Nelson Rockefeller who,
as governor of New York,
might have been the first public official
powerful enough to call his bluff.
Moses was famous for threatening to resign
when he was unhappy with something.
Rockefeller said at one point, "OK."
And Moses had no choice, he couldn't back down and he was gone.
After the Moses Expressway situation was finally settled,
Jane felt she could go to Canada
with her typewriter and become a writer again.
Her husband, who was an architect, was building hospitals up there,
and their sons were there to keep out of that awful Vietnam War.
Of course, as soon as she got to Toronto,
she saw there was another Expressway heading right for her house,
the Spadina Expressway.
She stopped that too!
And then got to work.
The Lower Manhattan Expressway was officially dead in the year 1970.
Meanwhile, across the country,
these kinds of freeway revolts were taking place and similar roadways
were being defeated.
But the Lower Manhattan Expressway was really the leading example.
If that had happened, there would be no SoHo.
The entire history of development
and redevelopment and adaptive re-use
in the city would have played out in a different way.
It would have been the single most damaging intervention in the urban
fabric in Manhattan in the 20th-century.
A city is not just a physical object.
The city is a living thing.
It will always morph and change.
Our goal has to be to manage change well, not to freeze it in time.
As cities around the world are obliged to house this dramatically
we still have the conversation in terms of top-down versus bottom-up,
formality versus informality.
These are the eternal polarities of thinking about the city.
If you go to China,
you see huge swathes of farmland
that are now being urbanised in exactly
the model that America used in the 1950s, and we know that it failed.
China today is Moses on steroids, you know,
and the notion that Moses could not
have conceived of this extraordinary
scaling up of what it means to build.
In that sense, history has outdone him.
These isolated developments with hundreds of similar looking blocks
with no urbanism, no street.
Who can live in them? And how would you live in them?
What they are building today, I think...
..is the slums of the future.
And they are made in concrete, they are going to last at least 60 years.
We are condemning future generations to an absolute world without hope.
Given the scale of the problem we have,
that makes a completely different context
in which Jane Jacobs' ideas again, now, have a new incarnation.
With the amount of people who now need to live in cities,
you have to accept that you're going to need more density,
but a lot of densely built-up terrain...
..is not a city.
If one were to build a city, no matter how fast it is,
without building a great public realm, you don't have a city.
That's what Jane Jacobs talks about.
Historically, solutions to city problems
have very seldom come from the top.
They come from people who understand the problems first-hand because they
are living with them, and who have new and ingenious and often very
offbeat ideas of how to solve them.
The creativity and the concern and the ideas down there in city
neighbourhoods and city communities has to be given a chance,
has to be released,
people have to insist on government trying things their way.
If you gave people an environment that they could shape themselves,
they would not only be happier...
..but you would have a completely different kind of city.
The key thing about Jane Jacobs,
much more important than loving stoops and streets and stuff,
was a willingness to be sceptical.
A willingness to doubt the received wisdom.
And to trust our eyes instead.
Under the seeming disorder of the old city,
wherever the old city is working successfully...
..is a marvellous order for maintaining the safety of the street
and the freedom of the city.
It is a complex order.
This order is all composed of movement and change.
And although it is life, not art,
we may fancifully call it the art form of the city...
..and liken it to the dance.
Not to a simple-minded precision dance,
with everyone kicking up at the same time,
twirling in unison and bowing off en masse...
..but to an intricate ballet...
..in which the individual dancers
and ensembles all have distinctive parts...
..which miraculously reinforce each other...
..and compose an orderly whole.
Utopia - the better place.
Somewhere between fiction and reality.
The idea has exerted
In 1960, Jane Jacobs's book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of modern city planning. Jacobs, a journalist, author and activist, was involved in many fights in mid-century New York, to stop 'master builder' Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city and demolishing historic neighbourhoods in pursuit of his modernist vision.
This film retraces those battles as contemporary urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda, and examines the city of today through the life and work of one of its greatest champions.