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Remembering Jane

It has now been three years since the world lost the most well-known urbanist, Jane Jacobs.  On the 1-year anniversary of her passing in 2007 I wrote:

Jacobs was not a professional planner, most likely a good thing in my view.  She authored the classic 1961 book, Death & Life of Great American Cities, as well as a number of other books on urban economics and planning.  Again, not a planner by training but by instinct and observation.  For much of her life she worked against the urban experiments being tested by the professional planners and traffic engineers.

Jacobs was born in Scranton PA but lived in NYC for several decades before moving to Toronto. Two months after her passing I was walking the streets of her Toronto neighborhood.  Though not perfect, I can see why she was drawn there.  Beautiful dense urban city with active sidewalks.

I’ve been working on my Masters in Urban Planning & Real Estate Development (UPRED) from Saint Louis University since the Fall of 2006 (I’ll graduate in December ’09).  In my studies I’ve read a lot of books and academic articles.  Some of the reading has been by Jacobs and some has been about Jacobs.  At least her theories.  Much has been critical too.

Keep in mind it has been nearly 50 years since Death & Life was first published.  Much of what she advocated doesn’t apply because cities ignored her warnings and razed large swaths of land for Urban Renewal.

Today’s cities are vastly different than the cities she studied in the 1950s for her book.  Of course her observations not longer apply — we’ve long destroyed the very qualities she spoke so highly of.

The next year St. Louis lost our own urban advocate, Marti Frumhoff.  Before Frumhoff died in 2007 she gave me copies of four additional books by Jacobs.  I’ve yet to read these.  To honor Jacobs I’m going to pick one to read this weekend.  Her Death & Life book should be required reading for elected officials and, well, everyone else.  May 4th marks her 93rd Birthday.

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Book Review; ‘Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch’ by NiNi Harris

I recently received a review copy of a new book that should interest many of you: Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch by NiNi Harris.  The hardcover book features 199 photographs ranging from images of the area before being razed to today.

The book is well organized into sections on the riverfront from the 1840s – 1940s, 1947 (when the monument competition was held), 1948-1959 when various obstacles delayed construction, 1960-1967 for the construction and finally 1968 to present.  I’ve had a hard time getting past 1940.

I should disclose that I’ve been friends with author NiNi Harris for nearly 15 years now.  This book is her eight and biggest work (200+ pages) to date.  In August of 2007 I reviewed her book, ‘Unyielding Spirit, the History of the Polish People in St. Louis.’  Here is her official bio:

NiNi Harris’ ancestors settled in St. Louis, near the site of the Gateway Arch, before the Civil War. As a grade school student, Harris was awed by construction of the Arch. Her father, an engineer, had impressed upon her the challenges in building the towering monument. Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch is Harris’ eighth book about the history, architecture, and heritage of St. Louis. Harris lectures at local colleges, universities, and continuing education programs.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:

St. Louis’ Gateway Arch rivals the monuments of the world in its simplicity, scale, elegance, and symbolism. The shimmering, stainless-steel
ribbon forms a catenary arch 630 feet tall and 630 feet across at its base. Its design amazed the civic leaders determined to construct a great monument on the St. Louis riverfront. When it was completed, it wowed not just St. Louisans, not just Americans, but also visitors from around the world. Its sleek geometric design and engineering was a creation of the Space Age, but the Arch was a monument to America’s frontier heritage. The Gateway Arch commemorated St. Louis’ riverfront as the Gateway to the West.

Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch chronicles the St. Louis riverfront from its days as a fur-trading post, to the creation of the Arch. From clearing the site to welding the first section into place, to the breathtaking moment of inserting the keystone—the photos tell the story.

If you love old photos this is a volume you will want to get.  The AIA Bookstore at 911 Washington Ave has the book in stock.


Book Review; Historic Photos of St. Louis by Adele Heagney and Jean Gosebrink

June 3, 2008 Books 4 Comments

The old saying is ‘a picture is worth a thousands words.’ So a book with nearly 200 vintage images says a lot. A new hardcover book called, appropriately enough, Historic Photos of St. Louis, attempts to tell a lot using vintage images. Combined with a very diverse collection of these images are fairly detailed captions on the place or event shown you learn a great deal about the evolution of St. Louis.

Many books using historical photos tend to focus on a single event or subject– the 1904 World’s Fair, Streetcar transit, The Arch, etc. Here Adele Heagney and Jean Gosebrink have divided the book into four sections covering a 100+ year period from the 1860s through the 1960s. I’ve seen many old photos of St Louis but Heagney & Gosebrink have put together an interesting collection of previously unpublished images (to my knowledge).

At first the lack of a theme other than St Louis is a bit disturbing — I kept wanting to find a connection from one image to the next. The connection is naturally St Louis and in each section that the images are from roughly the same period.

The cover image is from a 1927 parade honoring Charles Lindbergh. The interesting thing is the route — along Locust behind the main library. Of course in 1927 this was a much more vibrant section of town than it is today. However all the images show a booming St Louis with lots of people out on the sidewalks, newsboys selling papers on street corners and so on.

Ultimately such a book is depressing — showing all that we have lost — specific buildings, the streetcar system, sidewalks filled with pedestrians and the optimism of a growing city. I’ve spent hours now pouring over the images in this fine coffee table book.  The book is hardbound and is listed at $39.95.


The Next Slums

A reader sent me an excellent article that I want to share.  The basic premise is that due to a number of factors the subdivisions with single family home may well become the next slums:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay. 

Read the full article


Getting Facts Straight this Election Cycle

January 22, 2008 Books 7 Comments

Candidates, especially those seeking the Presidency, are prone to spout off facts and figures that support their position and make their opponent look bad.  How do we shift through all the BS and get right to the truth?  For me, I turn to the researchers at FactCheck.org.  Here is a summary of a recent item I just received from them following a recent debate between Clinton, Obama and Edwards:

In one of the liveliest debates of the 2008 presidential campaign, the three top Democrats slugged it out in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We noted some low blows:

  • Clinton falsely accused Obama of saying he “really liked the ideas of the Republicans” including private Social Security accounts and deficit spending. Not true. The entire 49-minute interview to which she refers contains no endorsement of private Social Security accounts or deficit spending, and Obama specifically scorned GOP calls for tax cuts.
  • Obama falsely denied endorsing single-payer government health insurance when he first ran for the Senate, saying, “I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer.” But in fact he gave a speech in 2003 saying, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program.”
  • Edwards misleadingly claimed, “I was the one who beat John McCain” in a recent CNN poll. The problem is that there is a more recent CNN poll, one that shows either Clinton or Obama beating McCain and doesn’t include Edwards.

FactCheck.org doesn’t leave it there — they dig deep into archives to find exact words and phrasing to illustrate exactly how a claim is taken out of context.  They look at claims in advertising and are equally honest when it comes to Republicans as well.  To see the full analysis of the above click here.  Now if only we had a similar group for state and local elections.