The name Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is legendary in urban planning and in the last year of her life, Jacobs had a prescient warning about the future of our waterfront in Brooklyn. Her 2005 letter about plans to develop the local waterfront is so timely that it seems like it could have been written today.Jacobs was a revolutionary urbanist and activist whose groundbreaking writings championed a community-based approach to urban development and renewal. Although She had no formal training as a planner, her seminal 1961 work “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is considered something of a bible amongst urbanists. In the book, Jacobs proposed novel ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail, that were groundbreaking then, but today seem obvious to generations of architects, urban planners, politicians and activists. Once a year in May, her contributions to cities are recalled on Jane’s Day when people around the world organize walks in cities.
In 2005, shortly before her own death, the legendary urbanist weighed in on the renewal of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront in a letter addressed to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She advocated for the adoption of a community-sponsored development plan that was ultimately not adopted. In her letter, she warned that developers outside the community would take advantage of the rezoning of the East River waterfront to serve their own interests by building high rises and by gentrifying the area so that working class people would be pushed out. Jacobs’ letter contrasted the local community’s plan for the area versus the developer-friendly rezoning that ultimately was adopted. 13 years later her warnings have proven valid. It is amazing how timely Jacobs’ letter still feels today. Continue reading