In “The Naked City: Union Square and The Paradox of Public Space”, Sharon Zukin describes the transformation that Union Square underwent. The park opened in 1830, and had a wealthy neighborhood with upper class families living in. When the upper class moved out, it became a land of cheap shopping and low rents with immigrants and working class people moving in. However in the 1970s the park became a very dangerous place due to the illegal drugs trades going on. In the 1980s, the Union Square Partnership was the first Business Improvement District (BID) to be formed in New York State. Its purpose was to keep public spaces such as shopping streets and parks clean and safe.  This organization then led to upper class and chain stores to move into the neighborhood.

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NYC: A Means Of Distraction

Unlike Robert Moses and his followers who had multiple projects and saw the city only as an ‘end’, Jane Jacobs saw the city as a ‘means’ and all of the city’s assets holistically for its citizens. In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs analyzes the faults of Moses’ planning and how it affected its citizens thereafter. A major factor of city life, Jacob explains, is the way people view it from the outside and also from within. The city brings forth a false sense of “togetherness” which can only be defied as unified behavior towards certain situations. In a suburban life as Jacobs mentions, people know each other and interact while in the city the “togetherness” reaches as far as the sidewalk for contact, reaching the bus stop, the laundromat, barbershops and corner stores.

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Public Characters

Upon reading Jane Jacobs’ book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, I was struck by the idea of self-appointed public characters and their importance in enhancing the “social structure of sidewalk life” (68). As Jacobs describes, public characters are usually storekeepers that are in frequent contact with various people and serve the purpose of circulating news about the neighborhood. If not storekeepers, then all other public characters depend on these small local businesses to gather news about the neighborhood. They do not need to have any specialties, they just need to be, as Jacobs puts it, present and public.

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Diversity: we preach it, but It SHOUTS back!

This weekend, I travelled to San Diego for the Sunset Cliffs Debate Tournament.  As I explored San Diego, I noticed two things: nice, clean neighborhoods surrounded by breathtaking nature, and a lack of people on the streets.  In fact, while my team and I were walking around downtown San Diego, I remarked “Are you sure this is downtown??  I barely see any people here.”  It then hit me that upon hearing the word “downtown” our minds always jump to a populated area filled with noise and culture, but if you look at Brooklyn’s downtown, it’s the exact opposite. I think the key missing presence in San Diego, which I see a lot of in New York, was diversity.  On the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University, I noticed that almost 97% of the student population was of white color.  While the diversity that lacks in San Diego is omnipresent in New York, New York still isn’t the best city it could be.  So, what exactly is lacking?   Continue reading “Diversity: we preach it, but It SHOUTS back!”

“Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset

   While Robert Moses was the mogul that valued the “big picture” over the needs of the people living in the streets he was destroying, Jane Jacobs approached city planning in a manner that placed larger emphasis on “city” over “planning.” In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs asserts that city planning should not be executed in a standardized manner, as standardization creates lackluster isolated cities and limits the growth of productive ones. Unfortunately, there is a bias that rudimentary city planning has against the true essence of a city. Jacobs stresses that current city planning considerably idealizes the “private” and “friendly” ambience of suburbs. Cities cannot function if planners continue to believe in the existence of a quintessential suburban “togetherness”. What needs to be realized is that suburbs lack diversity; differences are not celebrated but are diminished in monotony and repetitiveness. In fact, cities achieve a sense of harmony much more effectively than suburbs. Successful cities provide diversity and encourage interactions amongst strangers while maintaining comfortable boundaries. The resulting balance leads to a sense of public identity that further nurtures a city’s foundations. Continue reading ““Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset”