Combining Two Views

From the beginning of our class discussions and readings on Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs the question of “whose plan was better for the future of New York City?” has been continuously brought up. The stark differences between the two of their visions have been engrained in our heads. While I always picked a side for the sake of just answering the question, I was always unsure of why I had to pick only one of the two and wondered what would happen if the best of both of their ideas were combined. I also ignorantly doubted that anyone or any plan/policy related to the planning of New York City took this possibility into consideration…that is until I read Chapter 5: Planning and the Narrative of Threat of “Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind” (Larson 2013), which reflects on the background and logic behind RPA’s Third Regional Plan.

 

The Third Regional Plan, drawn out in A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan for The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area (Yaro and Hiss 1996), introduces the concept of the three E’s: economy, equity and environment and asserts that they direct the region’s concerns and that they are “the components of our quality of life” (Yaro and Hiss 1996: 6).  It was focused around the concern that the city’s prosperity and global standing were no longer guaranteed (Yaro and Hiss 1996) and contained a regional transit plan modeled after the ideas of Robert Moses combined with a city planning and community design modeled after the ideas of Jane Jacobs (Larson 2013). According to the RPA, the economy of the city would continue to decline unless both equity and environmental quality were increased (Yaro and Hiss 1996). In my opinion, the only way to achieve this is by drawing from the ideas set forth my Moses and Jacobs and having a combination of both of their ideas of an ideal city realized.  This way, equity could be achieved by Jacobs’ concepts of diversity contributing to prosperity, while environmental quality could be preserved through the parks built and envisioned by Moses. Just as I would have predicted it would be, the plan has been successful so far in influencing how NYC’s government has begun to rebuild itself.

 

PlaNYC 2030 – A Greener Greater New York (Georgetown Climate Center 2011) for example, released in 2007 under the Bloomberg administration, exemplifies how his administration carried out the environmental quality aspect of the Third Regional Plan.  It “brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York” (Georgetown Climate Center 2011: 1). It created 10 goals to achieve a sustainable future for the city and focused on land, water, transportation, energy, and air quality as well as climate change. It was also created to “prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen the economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers” (Georgetown Climate Center 2011: 1). Its environmental and transportation facets represent both the ideas set forth by Jacobs and Moses as mentioned earlier in reference to Larson’s writing, as well as the formula of the three E’s presented in A Region at Risk, proving that combining 2 different approaches can work.

 

While I believe these two plans are successful in combining the views of Moses and Jacobs and are steps in the right direction towards a prosperous city, we are still far from achieving their goals and should evaluate the extent to which certain ideas should be taken. For example, the Third Regional Plan calls for equity, but how equal should things be and in what aspects? Social, economic, etc.? How far can we go towards equality before we lean towards socialist patterns, a concept that many Americans cringe at the thought of owing to their political views.  Equality is not only a matter of the extent to which it should be taken but of the possibility of it being reached at all. In terms of environmental quality, for instance, many people ignore the idea of environmental racism— “racial discrimination in the development and implementation of environmental policy, especially as manifested in the concentration of hazardous waste disposal sites in or near areas with a relatively large ethnic minority population” (Oxford Dictionaries 2017). Again, as always, there is the question of who wins and who loses? Cases such as that of Flint, Michigan, where a community of poor and mainly minority residents were ignored when they reported brown water coming from their faucets and are still to this day not provided with clean drinking and bathing water, have shown that despite the enforcement of environmental health and protection policies, poor minority populations are still left to fend for themselves. Thus, the plans may seek to have everyone win, but is that really the case? In this example, representing many other situations, the answer is no.  It is more than a matter of imposing laws, but of a change in mindset and long held historical patterns. As of now, the affect of creating a plan that embodies both Moses’ and Jacob’s views has seemed to be successful in influencing policy. However, the only way to determine if the Third Regional Policy and PlaNYC 2030 will be achieve their goals in the long run is through the close watch of its effects on populations of every race and class over time. In the meantime, the questions just posed should be considered in order to improve how these plans are implemented as well as and how their core goals of an improved economy, equity, and better environmental quality can affectively be achieved.

 

http://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/planyc-2030-a-greener-greater-new-york.html

 

Sources

Larson S. (2013) “Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind”: Contemporary Planning in New York City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Larson S. (2013) Planning and the Narrative of Threat. Larson S. (1) “Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind”: Contemporary Planning in New York City (pp 61-76). Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Georgetown Climate Center (2011) PlaNYC 2030 – A Greener Greater New York.       http://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/planyc-2030-a-greener-greater-new-      york.html (last accessed 24 March 2017)

Oxford Dictionaries (2017) environmental racism.         https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/environmental_racism (last accessed 24      March 2017)

Yaro R. D. and Hiss T. (1996) A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan for The New York- New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area. Washington D.C.: Island Press

 

3 comments

  1. dahliahl says:

    Hi Jasmine,
    Very interesting blog post, especially how you explain how Moses’ and Jacobs’ visions have both been integrated in the RPA, which has then gone on to influence policy in the city. But I have some trouble with you using the word “successfully” because you say that combining the 2 approaches can work, but has the RPA been successful in NYC? Its ideas have definitely been implemented, but have they worked? And for who have they been successful for? The crux of Larson’s chapter I believe is that the RPA actually had very specific goals intended to benefit a specific group of people.
    You write that you believe the RPA argued that the economy of the city would decline unless both equality and environmental quality were increased. It claims that it’s core goals are all 3 E’s, but in actually is it really? The RPA itself and Larson seem to counteract that claim. The plan alleges that it’s all-inclusive, yet it’s creators turned to a homogenous group made up of elite business leaders to formulate a strategy that would lead to success and supposedly help the overall economy and quality of life. But, in actuality, they merely recommended plans that prioritized their own needs and own vision of success, such as, Larson reveals, lowering regulations and attracting highly skilled professionals. And this was done in part through enhancing the quality of life – but what exactly is “quality of life”? I believe that is an incredibly subjective term, and there is no common consensus as to how to measure it. Is quality of life low infant mortality rates? Low crime rates? Access to clean and running water? High income levels? Larson writes that the RPA measured it with safe streets and strong communities, but even that is vague and open to interpretation. For instance, and Giuliani (the mayor when the RPA was written in 1996) during this time enforced quality of life policing, and things like loitering, drinking beer in public, spitting, listening to loud music, and, famously, squeegee men were made illegal. Is hanging out on a corner really a threat to public safety? In reality, unwelcome or unappealing behaviors were increasingly criminalized and crackdowns to “clean up” neighborhoods disproportionately targeted minority residents. Under the pretense of protecting public safety, “quality of life” policies were only protecting a certain type of “public” and targeting another. Further, Larson writes that basically all of RPA’s proposals were focused on enhancing real estate values and attracting sophisticate and highly compensated workers, which, they believed, would keep NYC globally competitive. The plan wasn’t interested in helping low-skilled workers or keeping small neighborhood businesses afloat. The RPA says it cares about the income gap and the poor, but Larson argues that the RPA effectively laid the groundwork for to further these problems. For instance, Yaro is quoted saying that not only is gentrification inevitable, but perhaps even desirable, as, according to him, it’s a direct result of the so called success of a city.
    So the general theme at the time was clearly not equity. The RPA may have used ideas from Jacobs and Moses, but it did so in order to specifically attract upper and middle class residents who they believed would bolster NYC’s information-based globally-oriented economy, which in effect negatively impacted those not part of this group of creative, highly skilled professionals. And in part because of these policies, income inequality in NYC is the worst in the country and homelessness in NYC is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. So while it has influenced policy, is it correct to say that the RPA is a “step in the right direction towards a prosperous city?” I don’t believe it is.

  2. Beatriz DaMotta says:

    Hey Jasmine! Interesting read. I liked that your post stayed on task with only explaining what needed to be to give your view on the combination of Jacobs and Moses’ ideologies in the planning for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. I can refer that you argued that the goal of the third regional plan was to ensure the ‘quality of life’ by honing in on the success of the three E’s- environment, equity and economy but I’m not if that is what I picked up from A Region At Risk. I think it is important to note that the issues that brought about the non-profit administration in the early 1900s were rapid growth in cities, changes in communication technology and industrial institutions, immigration and the use of automobiles. Yes, using the philosophy that “the region’s concerns are indeed region and interconnected” rather then segregating and evaluating each individual issue, you can say that the three E’s are the the surrounding theme for those problems however the first director Thomas Adams did say that their goal was to work to “accommodate the growth”. I do agree that Jacobs and Moses’ ideologies held influence for the Regional Plan Association however I don’t think it was at the same time. The concern for industry and automobiles in the first two regional plans seem to cater more to Moses’ taste and the literature even mentioned how New Deal funds and the transfer of power from federal to state directly affected Robert Moses’ building projects. With the third plan and the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Jacobs’ ideas of, as you mentioned, diversity and the public health were at the core of these plans. You asked “how equal things should be and in which aspects?”- however I think it is important to note the difference between equality and equity, where the latter is based on need. I believe Jacobs would be more concerned with equity and it appears you are too. If equity really was the focus of the plans and municipal administrations then the areas of more concern like Flint, Michigan would be receiving the resources needed. Yet the environmental racism that you brought up impedes the success of this search for a better “quality of life” in that area so it appears that government is more concerned with equal treatment of all areas rather than the equitable solution to the town in a state of emergency. In Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind, it argues that narratives which eventually becomes plans have to fight to hold what the community considers ‘truth’ to win attention to become a plan. Groups of people disenfranchised because of class, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or whatever else similar, never get to have their narrative told and I think that is also important in evaluating the “success” of a regional plan.

  3. Beatriz DaMotta says:

    Hey Jasmine! Interesting read. I liked that your post stayed on task with only explaining what needed to be to give your view on the combination of Jacobs and Moses’ ideologies in the planning for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. I can refer that you argued that the goal of the third regional plan was to ensure the ‘quality of life’ by honing in on the success of the three E’s- environment, equity and economy but I’m not if that is what I picked up from A Region At Risk. I think it is important to note that the issues that brought about the non-profit administration in the early 1900s were rapid growth in cities, changes in communication technology and industrial institutions, immigration and the use of automobiles. Yes, using the philosophy that “the region’s concerns are indeed region and interconnected” rather then segregating and evaluating each individual issue, you can say that the three E’s are the the surrounding theme for those problems however the first director Thomas Adams did say that their goal was to work to “accommodate the growth”. I do agree that Jacobs and Moses’ ideologies held influence for the Regional Plan Association however I don’t think it was at the same time. The concern for industry and automobiles in the first two regional plans seem to cater more to Moses’ taste and the literature even mentioned how New Deal funds and the transfer of power from federal to state directly affected Robert Moses’ building projects. With the third plan and the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Jacobs’ ideas of, as you mentioned, diversity and the public health were at the core of these plans. You asked “how equal things should be and in which aspects?”- however I think it is important to note the difference between equality and equity, where the latter is based on need. I believe Jacobs would be more concerned with equity and it appears you are too. If equity really was the focus of the plans and municipal administrations then the areas of more concern like Flint, Michigan would be receiving the resources needed. Yet the environmental racism that you brought up impedes the success of this search for a better “quality of life” in that area so it appears that government is more concerned with equal treatment of all areas rather than the equitable solution to the town in a state of emergency. In Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind, it argues that narratives which eventually becomes plans have to fight to hold what the community considers ‘truth’ to win attention to become a plan. Groups of people disenfranchised because of class, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or whatever else similar, never get to have their narrative told and I think that is also important in evaluating the “success” of a regional plan.
    Thanks, Beatriz

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