Comparative Book Review #3: Revitalizing Neighborhoods

This is, of course, the one time Jane Jacobs gets precise and focuses mainly on NY projects and Alexander Garvin paints with a broad brush more than using specific examples. But there are views that can be used in more than their intended concepts on Jacob’s side, and Garvin finally finds the bullet point feature in Word and summarizes his thoughts clearly and concisely. Let’s hope Garvin stay on his feet…

Though Jacobs is particularly specific in the chapter regarding revitalizing neighborhoods, she also discusses ways to improve in other chapters. This advice includes promoting diversity, mixing land uses, the importance of small blocks and aged buildings, and the need for concentration for the success of a city. This is all well and good, but I have yet to read how she hopes to accomplish the aforementioned successfully without breaking any piggy banks.

Jacobs chose to focus mostly on NY low-income project housing in this chapter. She argues that people should desire to live in government housing and the stigma surrounding subsidized housing would lift because those who live there are proud to, not because it was a last resort. I agree with this, because low-income, rent-based, subsidized housing, government housing, HUD projects- what ever you want to call them- are always ugly. They’re downright depressing, unmotivating, and overall negatively designed. Isn’t the purpose of most subsidized housing (in the US) meant to be a temporary solution for those who need help during a rough patch, if not be permanent housing for low-income families? What’s inspiring about gray boxes, all in a row around a poorly maintained playground, dilapidated with matching interiors that share their exterior’s stare of resentment. I’d bet they follow the same design theory as a kill shelter. Enough ranting. The only example of an attractive subsidized housing building would be the Bel Franklin on Division in Spokane, WA.

She challenges developers to see the neighborhood (or in her case project) as a clean slate, and ask themselves, “What sort of new street suss and street buildings are possible?” She encourages the addition of places of employment, as it creates the feeling of a neighborhood than anything else. (As implied by her previously compared chapters.) Most of the time, these neighborhoods that are in dire need of revival house low-income families.

Her three pillars of success (7 points for an Office reference!) for revitalizing a project are: ‘knitting’ a failed or new development into desired city life without creating a barrier, elevator attendants at all hours (men at night, women during the day), and removing maximum income levels. These can also be applied to any neighborhood. The goal of knitting a failed neighborhood back into the weave of society is blurring the lines and overall eliminating Turf mentality and prejudice (to be covered later this week.) The goal of elevator attendants is safety- see comparative review #2 for creating safer streets. The goal of removing maximum income limits is to scrape the dignity of those who live in subsidized housing off the pale, stained carpets and lift them by the shoulders above being second-class citizens, which is what these housing projects and overwhelmingly low-income neighborhoods make their inhabitants feel like. Jacobs describes families preferring cousin’s couches over shuffling into the projects and low-income neighborhoods, just to keep away from making that shameful life choice.

As always, she states her (sometimes garish) viewpoints with passion and persuades the reader to look through her eyes. It’s quite intense, sometimes encouraging the random outcry of frustration to those around me.

“This is, of course, the best way to salvage any kind of sorted-out project, up to the time it is actually built: Think better of it.”

Garvin finally finds his editor, apparently, and gives a concise conclusion when it comes to revitalization. While his viewpoints are many decades more modern than Jacob’s, they remain mightily the same.

He reminds me of the 1973 winter Arab Oil Embargo in the very first paragraph, which made young professionals with no children rethink their living situation due to the high price of gasoline, and come back to the inner city where they worked, away from their bedroom communities. “If changing tastes were responsible for the neighborhood’s initial decline, they were responsible for its revival.” The inner city was, and in most cases still is, where the low-income families resided and the standard of living rose as you leave the city and enter the suburbs. Now, there are luxury condos scattered about in most every major downtown core. The tastes changed, and handymen with a bit of capital are reaping the benefits.

On page 285 (if anybody’s reading along), there is a precise list of what he finds to be the five elements of a successful revitalization:

  • A neighborhood with attractive, basically sound housing stock that can be restored with relatively little effort and money
  • Financial institutions that are prepared to make market-rate loans to property owners who can meet common under-writing requirements
  • Residents and property owners who are willing and able to put time and money into improving the neighborhood
  • A local government that invests in neighborhood infrastructure, community facilities, and public areas
  • A local staff that provides property owners with assistance in dealing with city agencies and financial institutions

While Garvin is speaking mostly about how to literally revitalize, rather than theoretically like Jacobs, the same themes prevail: old buildings promote diversity, which is usually the landscape of a dilapidated neighborhood. Stay creative in the building process and challenge yourself. Every neighborhood is worth putting sweat equity into. People should want to live where they do. Stay positive. Keep a positive relationship with those in power. Have a liaison (like Jane!) The only topic that disconnects here is financing on Garvin’s part, which I appreciate the addition of.

I’ve hit a writer’s block at 1,000 words, so: The End. Also, you’re probably thankful this is nearly half the length of the previous entry in this series. You’re welcome.

In faintly-willed conclusion: I preferred Garvin’s take on this more than Jacobs’ on this topic. He took it and gave an outline like a handbook, rather than a, “You should do this, do that, I don’t know how and no matter the cost! I know all!” vibe from Jacobs. It’s not because his writing is more recent, it’s because he simplifies a very complex and daunting task for Joe South Valley neighborhood to something that I believe anyone could understand and even attempt to implement.

Any feedback on this writing is greatly appreciated. I made an outline this time, but only half-followed it. Thanks for reading!


About Aascot Holt

Staff News Writer for the Easterner. Urban and Regional Planning Major. Senior. Has fingers in all proverbial pies.

One thought on “Comparative Book Review #3: Revitalizing Neighborhoods

  1. Pingback: Happy Belated Birthday, The Comprehensive! | The Comprehensive

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