Volume 75, Number 51 | May 10 - 16 2006

Letters to the editor

Size didn’t matter to Jacobs

To The Editor:
Re “The Life and Death of Jane Jacobs” (editorial, April 26):

You write that in her planning theories Jacobs “advocated low-rise development” and then you urge readers, in her name, to fight back against “luxury glass towers.” I have long been amazed at attempts to enlist “The Death and Life of American Cities” in support of such causes and feel that the best tribute we can make to Jacobs is to reread her book carefully. I read it every year because I teach it to my students.

Not only is Jacobs’s classic not against new buildings, tall buildings, modern buildings or buildings whose units are expensive to rent or purchase, but she makes it crystal clear, as she pursues her overall theme of the need for diversity, that neighborhoods need a good number of such buildings, along with a healthy mixture of other types (e.g. older, smaller and less expensive structures).

For example, the main theme of her chapter titled “The Need for Aged Buildings” is that “a successful city district becomes a kind of ever-normal granary so far as construction is concerned. Some of the old buildings, year by year, are replaced by new ones or rehabilitated to a degree equivalent to replacement. Over the years there is, therefore, constantly a mixture of buildings of many ages and types.”

In her chapter titled “The Need For Concentration” she advocates for high population densities and is completely open to very tall buildings. Her only reservation is that she does not want only tall buildings (just as she does not want only small buildings) and she does not want all the tall buildings to look alike, but she clearly expects vibrant city neighborhoods to have their share of extremely tall, new buildings. She poses the question “How high ‘should’ city dwellings go?” Her answer is that “the dwelling densities should go as high as they need to go to stimulate the maximum potential diversity in a district.” She wrote that 22 stories was about the maximum feasible limit for “elevator“ apartment buildings in her day, but she fully expected this limit to rise.

Of course people will say that as an activist Jacobs did engage in some specific campaigns for smaller buildings and to save older buildings. That is quite consistent with her overall goal of fostering diversity. But there is no way of reading “The Death and Life of American Cities” as favoring old and traditional and small buildings over those that are new and modern and tall. It is a passionate statement for neighborhoods that mix all of these.

David Halle
Halle is professor of sociology at UCLA and author of “New York and Los Angeles: Politics, Society and Culture”

Tipped off Jacobs on plan

To The Editor:
I actually met Robert Jacobs, Jane’s husband, first. He was one of the four architects Save the Village had recruited to create new zoning for the Village more in keeping with its character and height rather than the proposed 1960 zoning by the City Planning Commission. The zoning created for the central area of the Village by the Save the Village team of architects was pretty much accepted by the City Planning Commission when the new citywide zoning was adopted in 1960.

Since Save the Village was often in the news, I got to know many of the reporters from the newspapers.

It was Fri. Feb. 18, 1961, that I received a call from Woody Klein of the World Telegram while I was at work, asking me what I thought of the new proposal for the urban renewal plan for the West Village. “What urban renewal plan?” I said. It seemed that afternoon, at a City Hall press conference, Mayor Wagner had announced the West Village Urban Renewal Plan and also one for the Tompkins Square area.

The hearing was to be held on Wed. Feb. 23 and the call came on Presidents’ Day weekend.

I immediately called Jane and despite the holiday weekend, when many people were out of town, Jane got on the phone and contacted many of them. At the hearing on Feb. 23, about 200 people showed up protesting the urban renewal plan for the West Village. This outpouring of resistance managed to kill the proposal, although the urban renewal plan for Tompkins Square did get approved.

This was the kind of person Jane Jacobs was — a dynamo when she got going.

Doris Diether

Honoring the wrong woman

To The Editor:
New York University will be holding its graduation on May 11 at Washington Square Park, moved back from Shea Stadium because of the delay of the park redesign.

Receiving an honorary degree will be Wilma Stein Tisch, head of the Tisch Foundation. With a $2.5 million “donation,” she and her organization will be buying the name “Tisch Fountain” for one of New York City’s most famous landmarks, marked with two plaques in perpetuity.

Ironically, just two weeks ago, Jane Jacobs passed away in Toronto. Were it not for her fight against Robert Moses in the 1950s and 1960s, that park would now be a highway, and N.Y.U. would have had their commencement in a sports arena or other less pleasant venues for the last 30 years.

Ms. Jacobs should be the person whom N.Y.U. is honoring. It is a sad commentary on these moneycentric times that one person saved the park, and one is attempting to buy it with a large donation towards a bitterly fought move of the fountain. Sadly, in these times, the money is the most important factor.

Ray Brizzi

Pink triangle needs her help

To The Editor:
Jane Jacobs, long a champion of the disempowered and an archactivist, were she alive today, would recognize that the U.S. government has long been responsible for the spread of AIDS. I posit that she would willingly return the small traffic island bounded by Jane St., W. Fourth St. and Eighth Ave. to what it once was: a large pink triangle painted on the macadam. This triangle was a spontaneous reaction to the AIDS epidemic and was on that site for 20 years.

The triangle, whose genesis was the Holocaust, identified homosexuals in the Nazi death camps. This symbol was adopted by the AIDS community to underline the idea that silence equals death.

Ms. Jacobs would eschew any feel-good, not-in-my-backyard AIDS memorial as proposed for the Hudson River Park promenade.

Why is it taking the Village so long to replace that pink triangle, as they said they would?

More than 5,000 Villagers, dead from AIDS, are testimony to the U.S. government’s neglect.

Jane Jacobs, you rock!

Melvyn Stevens

We shall not be moved!

To The Editor:
Re “The Life and Death of Jane Jacobs” (editorial, April 26):

Thank you for your fine coverage of the death and life of Jane Jacobs. None of us would be living here in the Village today if she hadn’t written and fought valiantly for the neighborhood. One of her best-known acts of leadership — as all the books and obituaries point out — was to stop Robert Moses from bulldozing a highway through Washington Square Park. Can you picture it?

The FIERCE! people and their followers and adherents are bulldozing a highway through our neighborhood with their consciously destructive behavior. This is not an exaggeration. At public meetings and in writing, they yell at us, “If you don’t like our noise, move!”

We will not be bulldozed out of our homes and neighborhoods by their gross incivility. We shall not be moved!

John Stanley

Christopher St. blues

To The Editor:
Re “Prostitution runs rampant” (letter, by Jay Jeffries, April 12):

Mr. Jeffries’s letter hit the nail on the head! As a gay man who lived on Christopher St. for 15 years, I saw the eroding of the quality of life here firsthand. I have lived now in Florida for the last two and a half years because I was forced to move from the neighborhood I still love. The destruction of the quality of life here forced me to make this decision.

I come up to visit the neighborhood at least twice a year, and must say that during my last visit in early April, the situation here was worse than ever.

Mr. Jeffries states that Christine Quinn has turned her back on the neighborhood, and I agree wholeheartedly.

When I lived there, all my calls went unanswered. Now she is speaker and what may be next, mayor? Heaven forbid!

The L.G.B.T. Center on W. 13th St should open its doors to these young people, and not turn their backs. After all, who can help these L.G.B.T. youths more than the Center?
Sal Sillitti

Will B.P. walk the walk?

To The Editor:
Re “Dissidents are raring for race after party dis, attack letter” (news article, April 26):

After reading your lengthy piece about Community Board 2’s current chairperson — “it’s my party and I’ll invite who I want to” Derr — who seems to take her cues from our “decider in chief,” George W., I’m still waiting for Borough President Scott Stringer to follow through on his campaign promises. In personal campaign appearances before the Downtown Independent Democrats, in a candidates’ forum in Soho and again at the recent Soho/Noho/Lower East Side town hall meeting held at the Public Theater, Stringer made community board reform a linchpin of his platform.

After eight disastrous years of Virginia Fields using community boards for her political ambitions by appointing bar and club owners in apparent return for campaign contributions, Stringer promised at those functions and in a lengthy report outlining his plans for community board reform to clean house and restore integrity to community boards by appointing citizen activists.

Well it’s been four months now, new appointments have been made and the sleazy behavior of the current chairperson and her minions continues in the form of anonymous letters, the barring of so called “dissidents” from C.B. 2 functions and the closed selection process for selecting Arty Strickler’s successor as district manager.

As reprehensible as the behavior is of the business cabal that currently controls C.B. 2, the saddest aspect in this tale turns out to be their boss B.P. Stringer, and his failure to fulfill his pledge to be a reformer. Where are you Scott? Bella’s turning in her grave.

Carl Rosenstein

City has promised more

To The Editor:
Re: “Approval is given for Village Historic District’s expansion” (news article, May 3):

Thank you to The Villager for its coverage of this momentous event, and for its strong coverage and editorial support throughout this fight. You always kept Villagers well informed and tapped in to this effort, and for that we owe you a great debt of gratitude for the wonderful outcome.

I would, however, also like to correct an inaccuracy in the recent article. When you state that advocates failed to secure landmark designation for sites like Westbeth and Charles Lane, in fact, as the map you published correctly points out, the city has promised to landmark Westbeth, Charles Lane and six other individual sites in the far West Village. This was always planned by the city as part of a set of individual landmark designations separate from the historic district designations approved this past week, and we expect those to come soon. While the city appears to be behind schedule on their promise to landmark all of these sites by the spring of 2006, I think we should take them at their word and hold them to it, and expect and push for these promised designations to come.

Moreover, while it is true that the city did “carve out” the Superior Ink and Whitehall Storage sites from the landmark designations and downzoning in the area, advocates and our elected officials were able to significantly reduce the size and height of the originally planned buildings for both sites, and got developer Related Companies to drop the totally inappropriate curving, reflective glass design (a la Astor Pl. tower) originally planned for the Superior Ink site. Additionally, we continue to push for further improvements to the proposed designs and reductions in their size, as well as for landmarking of the Superior Ink factory, though the city seems committed to allowing that building’s demolition and development to move ahead.
Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

In Pagan’s footsteps

To The Editor:
Re “Margarita Lopez lands #3 job at the City Housing Authority” (news article, May 3):

In 1997, City Councilman Antonio Pagan endorsed the Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, for re-election, and was then reimbursed with a job in the Giuliani administration. In 2005, Pagan’s successor on the City Council, Margarita Lopez, endorsed the Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for re-election, and was then reimbursed with a job in the Bloomberg administration. Do you see a corrupt pattern here? Am I being credulous in hoping that the East Village will not always be represented on the City Council by a gay quisling? Lopez has said that she and Bloomberg were like “star-crossed lovers,” and proclaimed him an “honorary lesbian,” thus disgusting many gay activists. She double-crossed the voters, confirming herself as a dishonorable lesbian.

Kevin O’Connor

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