spillway on jacobs – mammoth // building nothing out of something

spillway on jacobs

Will Wiles writes about the veneration of Jane Jacobs by New Urbanists, delving into his own history of reading Jacobs and coming back out with a series of well-made points, from the realization that battling over the legacy and proper reading of a single urbanist like Jacobs is rather unhelpful, to noting that proximity to the workplace is no guarantee of a healthy urbanism (after all, “FoxxConn workers live in and around their workplace“).  The latter point leads into this paragraph, which I think makes an important point:

The Nurbanist vision of carving up the city in this way is as diagrammatic and retrograde as Moses’ planning – and, similarly, it’s an assault on the complexity of the city, the city’s ability to generate its own fabulously complicated internal patterns that defy cursory inspection. The emphasis on little neighbourhoods, the stoop, local shops and walking distances, the “human scale” only tells part of the story of the city – after all, these things can be found in villages and small towns. All cities need sublimity, a touch of holy terror, a defiance of human scale that asserts connection to the greater urban whole. Elevated highways, crowds, tall buildings, interconnection and confusion – these things can be to some people dismaying and unpleasant, but the awe they strike is the overture of accepting the condition of living in a city. The Tube roundel is vaguely holy to Londoners – intensely reassuring – because it is a sign of connection with a system of vast complexity and importance. (The religious meaning of the Tube is a subject I keep meaning to write about at some point.) Nurbanism stems from a fear and hatred of the modern city as it is – a hatred that is ideological, that cannot and will not be shown that there are reasons to like the neon snarl of the cities we have, and their inner flows and surges.

Read Wiles’ entire post here.

5 Responses to “spillway on jacobs”

  1. Wiles packs in quite a few arguments, but the term is nothing but counterproductive. I once considered using the label myself, but then I thought better of it…

    Like most other snarky labels, the contraction is a fun way to feel superior that leaves a hangover of disrespect and othering. Traditionalist architects already have a serious victim complex (rightly so in many cases) and this will only make having some kind of productive dialogue pointless.

    More importantly, it conflates the founders, members of the CNU, those who have signed the Charter, and people who merely ascribe to the general viewpoint to some degree. Lumping and labeling is a constant temptation. When you feel the urge, pray for the intercession of Saint Jane.

    • rholmes says:

      This is true, and you are correct. As you say, it is tempting to label those you disagree with, but it does little to convince them of anything but your hostility.

      Obviously, in this case, I gave in to the temptation to enjoy a label. (Though I have no compunction — and I know this is bad internet etiquette, but I don’t care — about editing my original post to undo that error, so I have done so.)

      This is all assuming that New Urbanists in the UK don’t refer to themselves as Nurbanists. (The fun would really start if one cross-bred New Urbanists with Parametricists, which would presumably produce NURBSanists. That’s a terrible joke, I know.)

  2. When reading things like this, I often wonder if people really understand what New Urbanism is. They like to think they know what it is but even those in the movement all have their own opinions. Architects are the worst offenders and usually they’ve never even read the charter of the New Urbanism.

    • rob says:

      You should tell Wiles why he’s wrong (over on Spillway). I’m sure he would be willing to engage you.

      Or, failing that, you could at least tell us here why he’s wrong…

  3. rob says:

    I should note that the reason I found Wiles’ post particularly interesting is that, in previous conversations with New Urbanists, the easiest point of agreement between us has always been on the value of providing opportunities to live in proximity to the workplace. When Wiles noted that (rather obviously) the company town (such as FoxConn’s factory in Shenzhen, which is not the most pleasant urban arrangement in the world, though it’s merits I suppose could be debated) easily meets that standard, I was provoked to re-consider the degree of importance which I assign to that (walkability/proximity) standard. I always appreciate being provoked to reconsider my assumptions.