Jane Jacobs y la Muerte y Vida de la Planificación Americana 

Un historiador evalua  el complejo legado de Jane Jacobs, incluyendo el surgimiento del activismo comunitario y la marginalizacion de la planificacion profesional

Origen: Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning


“Construction Potentials: Postwar Prospects and Problems, a Basis for Action,” Architectural Record, 1943; prepared by the F.W. Dodge Corporation Committee on Postwar Construction Markets. [Drawing by Julian Archer]

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

— T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Durante un reciente retiro aquí en Chapel Hill, el profesorado de planificación llevó a cabo una sesión de tormenta de ideas en la que a cada profesor – incluyéndome a mí – se le pidió que anotara, de forma anónima, algunos de los principales problemas y preocupaciones que enfrenta la profesión hoy. Estas listas fueron recolectadas y transcritas en el pizarron. Todos los temas esperados estaban allí: sostenibilidad y calentamiento global, equidad y justicia, pico del petróleo, inmigración, expansión urbana y salud pública, readaptación de suburbios, etc. Pero también apareció en el pizarron, como un grafiti sacrílego, las palabras “Profesión Trivial”. 1 Cuando votamos para clasificar los artículos en orden de importancia, la “Profesión Trivial” fue colocada – he aquí – cercana a la cima. Esto sorprendió y alarmó a muchos de nosotros. Aquí estaban miembros de una de las mejores facultades de planificación en América, en uno de los programas más respetados del mundo, sugiriendo que su campo elegido de estudio era menor e irrelevante.

Ahora, aún el más parroquial entre nosotros probablemente estaría de acuerdo en que la planificación urbana no es una de las profesiones fundamentales de la sociedad, como leyes o medicina o quizás economía. De hecho, es un campo menor, y eso está bien. Nathan Glazer, en su bien conocido ensayo “Escuelas de las Profesiones Menores”, etiqueto como “menor”, todas las profesiones fuera Leyes y Medicina. Ni siquiera clérigos o teólogos lograron su inclusion. Mas aún, Glazer observó que los intentos de parte de las “ocupaciones” tales como la planificación urbana para transformarse “en profesiones en el sentido más antiguo, y la asimilación de sus programas de formación en instituciones académicas, no han ido bien” 2 Pero el status minoritario por si mismo no es el porque la “Trivial Profession” apareció en la pizarra. Estaba allí gracias a una creciente percepción, especialmente entre jóvenes eruditos y practicantes, de que la planificación es un campo difuso e ineficaz, y que en gran medida no ha sido éxitoso durante el último medio siglo en su propio juego: de lograr ciudades y regiones más justas, sostenibles, saludables, eficientes y hermosas. Estaba allí debido a una inminente sensación de que los planificadores en EUA carecen de la agenda o la autoridad para convertir el idealismo en realidad, que la planificación no tiene el prestigio ni la credibilidad en la calle para efectuar un cambio real.

Para entender las raíces de este sentimiento de impotencia, debemos regresar al gran cambio cultural que ocurrió en la planificación comenzando en los años sesenta. Las semillas del descontento sembradas entonces trajeron un nuevo y necesario crecimiento, que sin embargo ahogó tres aspectos vitales de la profesión: su identidad disciplinaria, su autoridad profesional y su capacidad visionaria.

Es bien sabido que la planificación de ciudad en EUA evolucionó a partir de la profesión de arquitecto paisajista al final de la era Olmsted. El expertise básico de la planificación fue entonces aterrizado y tangible, preocupada principalmente por acomodar las necesidades y funciones humanas en la tierra, desde la escala de un sitio hasta la escala de regiones enteras. Uno de los fundadores del programa de Chapel Hill, F. Stuart Chapin, Jr. (cuyo primer grado fue en arquitectura), describió la planificación como “un medio para anticiparse sistemáticamente y logrando el ajuste en el entorno físico de una ciudad consistente con tendencias social y económica y sólidos principios de diseño cívico “.3 El objetivo era crear entornos físicos que ayudarían a lograr una sociedad más próspera, eficiente y equitativa. Y de muchas maneras los gigantes de la planificación pre-guerra – Olmsted Jr., Burnham, Mumford, Stein y Wright, Nolen, y Gilmore D. Clarke – fueron exitosos en hacer precisamente eso.


“Construction Potentials: Postwar Prospects and Problems, a Basis for Action,” Architectural Record, 1943; prepared by the F.W. Dodge Corporation Committee on Postwar Construction Markets. [Drawing by Julian Archer]

El período de posguerra fue por completo otra cosa. Para entonces, los estadounidenses de clase media estaban comprando coches y mudandose a los suburbios en números récord. El núcleo urbano estaba siendo despoblado. Las ciudades estaban perdiendo su base gravable, los edificios estaban siendo abandonados, los vecindarios estaban cayendo víctimas de la plaga. Los planificadores y los líderes cívicos estaban cada vez más desesperados por salvar sus ciudades. La ayuda vino bastante pronto del tío Sam. La aprobación de la Ley de Vivienda de 1949, con su infame Título I, que hizo de la renovación urbana un objetivo legítimo para la financiación federal. Rebosantes de dinero en efectivo, las agencias de reurbanización de ciudades encargaron a los planificadores urbanos preparar planes maestros de limpieza de tugurios. Vecindarios étnicos vibrantes – incluyendo en el que mi madre creció cerca de la Astilleros de la Marina de Brooklyn – fueron borrados por superblocks del tipo Voisinian o perforados con autopistas que pretendian hacer al centro de ciudad accesible a los suburbanitas. Los planificadores urbanos de la posguerra instigaron así algunos de los actos de vandalismo urbano más flagrantes en la historia americana. Por supuesto, no lo veian así. La mayoría creía, como Lewis Mumford, que las ciudades de EUA estaban sufriendo un cáncer urbano completamente incurable con los “remedios caseros” que estaba preparando Jane Jacobs y que la medicina fuerte del desmonte de tugurios era justo lo que el médico ordenaba. Como sus colegas arquitectos, los planificadores de la posguerra habían bebido el Kool-Aid LeCorbusiano y estaban demasiado intoxicados para ver el daño que estaban causando..

De este modo se produjo la merecida reaccion contra el urbanismo de superbloques y el autoritario tipo de planificacion, nosotros-expertos-sabemos-mejor que lo respaldó. Y la reacción llego, por supuesto, de una joven periodista con gafas llamada Jane Jacobs. Su libro de 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities muy parecido al decreto de Lutero clavado en la Schlosskirche Wittenberg cuatro siglos antes, detonó una reforma – esta vez en la planificación. Para la creciente generación de planificadores, arribando a la mayoría de edad en una época de fermento cultural y rebelión, Jacobs fue un santo patróno. Los jóvenes idealistas pronto se pusieron a rehacer el campo. El ancien régime fue llevado a juicio por sus fracasos reales e imaginarios, por no responder adecuadamente a la crisis urbana, y especialmente por ignorar cuestiones de pobreza y racismo. Pero el cambio no fue fácil; el campo se sumió en desorden. Un vistazo a la Revista de Julio de 1970 del Journal of the American Institute of Planners revela una profesión atrapada por una crisis de misión, propósito y relevancia. Como los autores de un artículo titulado “Holding Together” preguntaron, ¿cómo esta disciplina bien intencionada podria transformarse a si misma” en un contexto de tendencias en la sociedad y en la profesión que invalidaban muchos de los supuestos que subyacian en la educacion tradicional de la planificación”?  4


Plan for Better Cities, first day cover, Charles R. Chickering/Cachet Craft (1967). [Courtesy of Thomas Campanella]

Una forma era desprenderse del enfoque físico-intervencionista muscular que había sido durante mucho tiempo el métier de la planificación. El rey Layo fue asi asesinado por Édipo, enamorado de “Madre Jacobs”, como Mumford la llamó burlonamente. 5 Forzado de su elevada percha, el planificador, una vez poderoso, se encontró en una calle de la ciudad caliente y llena de gente. Ya no haría girar una brújula por encima de la ciudad como la batuta de conductor, como lo hizo el planificador anónimo representado en el sello de correos de 1967 Plan for Better Cities (en la ilustración de First Day Cover, usa incluso un anillo rosado!). Fue tan internalizada la crítica de Jacobs que los planificadores sólo podían ver locura y fracaso en el trabajo de sus antecesores. El gran dicho de Burnham “No hagas planes pequeños” pasó de ser grito de guerra a ser una vergüenza en menos de una década. Incluso una figura tan reverenciada como Sir Ebenezer Howard era ahora un paria. La misma Jacobs describió al buen hombre, uno de los grandes progresistas de la pasada era victoriana, como un simple “reportero de la corte”, un aficionado sin idea que deseaba “hacer la ciudad” con “ideas poderosas y destructoras”. 6 De hecho, para Jacobs, no sólo la renovación urbana americana estaba mal guiada, sino que toda la empresa de planificación visionaria, racional y centralizada era sospechosa. Ella se oponia tanto a los nuevos pueblos como a la eliminación de tugurios – cualquier cosa que amenazara la vitalidad de las formas urbanas tradicionales era el enemigo. Se ha olvidado en gran medida que la popular edición británica de Death and Life se subtituló “The Failure of Town Planning”. Qué extraño que una postura tan conservadora, incluso reaccionaria, galvanizara a toda una generación.

Los Jacobsianos buscaban nuevos métodos para hacer para que las ciudades funcionaran – desde la base y del fondo para arriba. El subalterno fue exaltado, el maestro mantuvo perfil bajo. Los restiradores se lanzaron para hacer barricadas y encuestas y hojas de cálculo. Los planificadores buscaron nuevas alianzas en la academia, más allá de la arquitectura y el diseño – en ciencias políticas, derecho, economía, sociología. Pero había problemas. En primer lugar, ninguna de las ciencias sociales se ocupaba principalmente de la ciudad; En el mejor de los casos podrían ser sólo aliados parciales. Segundo, la planificación no fue tomada en serio por estos campos. El enamoramiento del colegial no fue devuelto, haciendo la relación desigual desde el principio. Incluso hoy es raro que un departamento de ciencias sociales contratea un doctor de planificación, mientras que los programas de planificación de rutina, contratan académicos con doctorados en economía y ciencias políticas. De hecho, Nathan Glazer observó que uno de los rasgos distintivos de una profesión menor es que la facultad con doctorados “externos” goza realmente de mayor prestigio que aquellos con títulos en la profesión misma. 7 También tienden a tener mínima lealtad a la planificación. 8

This brings us to the first of the three legacies of the Jacobsian turn: It diminished the disciplinary identity of planning. While the expanded range of scholarship and practice in the post-urban renewal era diversified the field, that diversification came at the expense of an established expertise — strong, centralized physical planning — that had given the profession visibility and identity both within academia and among “place” professions such as architecture and landscape architecture. My students are always astonished to learn just how toxic and stigmatized physical planning — today a popular concentration — had become by the 1970s. Like a well-meaning surgeon who botches an operation, planners were (correctly) blamed for the excesses of urban renewal and many other problems then facing American cities. But the planning baby was thrown out with the urban-renewal bathwater. And once the traditional focus of physical planning was lost, the profession was effectively without a keel. It became fragmented and balkanized, which has since created a kind of chronic identity crisis — a nagging uncertainty about purpose and relevance. Certainly in the popular imagination, physical planning was what planners did — they choreographed the buildings and infrastructure on the land. By the mid-1970s, however, even educated laypersons would have difficulty understanding what the profession was all about. Today, planners themselves often have a hard time explaining the purpose of their profession. By forgoing its traditional focus and expanding too quickly, planning became a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. And so it remains.

The second legacy of the Jacobsian revolution is related to the first: Privileging the grassroots over plannerly authority and expertise meant a loss of professional agency. In rejecting the muscular interventionism of the Burnham-Moses sort, planners in the 1960s identified instead with the victims of urban renewal. New mechanisms were devised to empower ordinary citizens to guide the planning process. This was an extraordinary act of altruism on our part; I can think of no other profession that has done anything like it. Imagine economists at the Federal Reserve holding community meetings to decide the direction of fiscal policy. Imagine public health officials giving equal weight to the nutritional wisdom of teenagers — they are stakeholders, after all! Granted, powering up the grassroots was necessary in the 1970s to stop expressway and renewal schemes that had run amok. But it was power that could not easily be switched off. Tools and processes introduced to ensure popular participation ended up reducing the planner’s role to that of umpire or schoolyard monitor. Instead of setting the terms of debate or charting a course of action, planners now seemed content to be facilitators — “mere absorbers of public opinion,” as Alex Krieger put it, “waiting for consensus to build.” 9

The fatal flaw of such populism is that no single group of citizens — mainstream or marginalized, affluent or impoverished — can be trusted to have the best interests of society or the environment in mind when they evaluate a proposal. The literature on grassroots planning tends to assume a citizenry of Gandhian humanists. In fact, most people are not motivated by altruism but by self-interest. Preservation and enhancement of that self-interest — which usually orbits about the axes of rising crime rates and falling property values — are the real drivers of community activism. This is why it’s a fool’s errand to rely upon citizens to guide the planning process. Forget for a moment that most folks lack the knowledge to make intelligent decisions about the future of our cities. Most people are simply too busy, too apathetic, or too focused on their jobs or kids to be moved to action over issues unless those issues are at their doorstep. And once an issue is at the doorstep, fear sets in and reason flies out the window. So the very citizens least able to make objective decisions end up dominating the process, often wielding near-veto power over proposals.

To be fair, passionate citizen activism has helped put an end to some very bad projects, private as well as public. And sometimes citizen self-interest and the greater good do overlap. In Orange County, part of the Research Triangle and home to Chapel Hill, grassroots activism stopped a proposed asphalt plant as well as a six-lane bypass that would have ruined a pristine forest. But the same community activism has at times devolved into NIMBYism, causing several infill projects to be halted and helping drive development to greenfield sites. (Cows are slow to organize.) It’s made the local homeless shelter homeless itself, almost ended a Habitat for Humanity complex in Chapel Hill, and generated opposition to a much-needed transit-oriented development in the county seat of Hillsborough (more on this in a moment). And for what it’s worth, the shrillest opposition came not from rednecks or Tea Party activists but from highly educated “creative class” progressives who effectively weaponized Jane Jacobs to oppose anything they perceived as threatening the status quo — including projects that would reduce our carbon footprint, create more affordable housing and shelter the homeless. NIMBYism, it turns out, is the snake in the grassroots.

NIMBYism has been described as “the bitter fruit of a pluralistic democracy in which all views carry equal weight.” 10 And that, sadly, includes the voice of the planner. In the face of an angry public, plannerly wisdom and expertise have no more clout than the ranting of the loudest activist; and this is a hazard to our collective future. For who, if not the planner, will advocate on behalf of society at large? All planning may be local, but the sum of the local is national and eventually global. If we put parochial interests ahead of broader needs, it will be impossible to build the infrastructure essential to the long-range economic viability of the United States — the commuter and high-speed rail lines; the dense, walkable, public-transit-focused communities; the solar and wind farms and geothermal plants; perhaps even the nuclear power stations.

The third legacy of the Jacobsian turn is perhaps most troubling of all: the seeming paucity among American planners today of the speculative courage and vision that once distinguished this profession. I’ll ease into this subject by way of a story — one that will appear to contradict some of what I just wrote about citizen-led planning. I have served for several years now on the planning board of Hillsborough, North Carolina, where my wife and I have lived since 2004. Hillsborough, founded 1754, is a charming town some 10 miles north of Chapel Hill. It’s always reminded me of a grittier, less precious version of Concord, Massachusetts. It has a long and rich history, progressive leadership, and a thriving arts and culture scene. It is also blessed with a palpable genius loci: “If there are hot spots on the globe, as the ancients believed,” writes resident Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, “Hillsborough must be one of them.” 11 The town is also located on one of the region’s main rail arteries, and has been since the Civil War. Every day several Amtrak trains — including the Carolinian, the fastest-growing U.S. passenger line — speed through on their way to Charlotte and Raleigh, Washington and New York. But a passenger train hasn’t made a scheduled stop in Hillsborough since March 1964, when Southern Railway ended service due to declining ridership. After a century of connectivity, Hillsborough and Orange County were cut loose from the nation’s rail grid.


Hillsborough Station master plan (2010); rendering by Thomas J. Campanella. [Courtesy Orange County Rail Station Task Force]

In late 2007 a group of residents in our local coffee shop, a classic Oldenburg “third place” named Cup-A-Joe, got to talking about reviving rail service. Soon a petition was drafted, and within months several hundred had signed it. 12 At the same time, I had students in my urban design and site planning class develop schemes for a station-anchored mixed-use development close to downtown. I invited town officials to the final review. The local newspaper did an article. Six months later the town purchased the parcel and set about appointing a task force. Amtrak, unprompted, produced a study showing that a Hillsborough stop would be profitable. The North Carolina Railroad Company, owner of the right-of-way and long a Kafka’s Castle of impenetrability, suddenly got interested. Task force members were treated to a corridor tour in the railroad’s track-riding Chevy Suburban; we were invited to conferences and seminars. The North Carolina Department of Transportation submitted a request for funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The station was, after all, a poster child for the sort of infrastructure President Obama’s stimulus package was ostensibly intended to support.

And all along I kept wondering: Why did this have to come out of a coffee shop and a classroom? Where were the planners? Why didn’t the town or county planning office act on this opportunity? A moment ago I argued that the public lacks the knowledge and expertise to make informed decisions about planning. If that’s the case, what does it say about our profession when a group of citizens — most with no training in architecture, planning or design — comes up with a very good idea that the planners should have had? When I asked about this, the response was: “We’re too busy planning to come up with big plans.” 13 Too busy planning. Too busy slogging through the bureaucratic maze, issuing permits and enforcing zoning codes, hosting community get-togethers, making sure developers get their submittals in on time and pay their fees. This is what passes for planning today. We have become a caretaker profession — reactive rather than proactive, corrective instead of preemptive, rule bound and hamstrung and anything but visionary. If we lived in Nirvana, this would be fine. But we don’t. We are entering the uncharted waters of global urbanization on a scale never seen. And we are not in the wheelhouse, let alone steering the ship. We may not even be on board.

How did this come about? How did a profession that roared to life with grand ambitions become such a mouse? The answer points to the self-inflicted loss of agency and authority that came with the Jacobs revolution. It’s hard to be a visionary when you’ve divested yourself of the power to turn visions into reality. Planning in America has been reduced to smallness and timidity, and largely by its own hand. So it’s no surprise that envisioning alternative futures for our cities and towns and regions has defaulted to nonplanners such as William McDonough and Richard Florida, Andrés Duany and Rem Koolhaas, and journalists such as Joel Kotkin and James Howard Kunstler. Jane Jacobs was just the start. It is almost impossible to name a single urban planner today who is a regular presence on the editorial pages of a major newspaper, who has galvanized popular sentiment on issues such as sprawl and peak oil, or who has published a best-selling book on the great issues of our day.

Late in life, even Jane Jacobs grew frustrated with the timidity of planners — Canadian planners this time. In an April 1993 speech — published in the Ontario Planning Journal — she lamented the absence of just the sort of robust plannerly interventionism that she once condemned. Jacobs read through a list of exemplary planning initiatives — the Toronto Main Street effort; the new Planning for Ontario guidelines; efforts to plan the Toronto waterfront; and plans for infill housing, the renewal and extension of streetcar transit, the redevelopment of the St. Lawrence neighborhood, and on and on. And then she unleashed this bitter missile: “Not one of these forward looking and important policies and ideas — not ONE — was the intellectual product of an official planning department, whether in Toronto, Metro, or the province.” Indeed, she drove on, “our official planning departments seem to be brain-dead in the sense that we cannot depend on them in any way, shape, or form for providing intellectual leadership in addressing urgent problems involving the physical future of the city.” This, I hardly need to add, from a person who did more than any other to quash plannerly agency to shape the physical city. 14

Well, what can be done about all this? And what might the doing mean for the future of planning education? How can we cultivate in planners the kind of visionary thinking that once characterized the profession? How can we ensure that the idealism of our students is not extinguished as they move into practice? How can we transform planners into big-picture thinkers with the courage to imagine alternatives to the status quo, and equipped with the skills and the moxie to lead the recovery of American infrastructure and put the nation on a greener, more sustainable path?


“Construction Potentials: Postwar Prospects and Problems, a Basis for Action,” Architectural Record, 1943; prepared by the F.W. Dodge Corporation Committee on Postwar Construction Markets. [Drawing by Julian Archer]

It was the Jacobsian revolution and its elimination of a robust physical-planning focus that led to the diminution of planning’s disciplinary identity, professional agency and speculative courage. Thus I believe that a renewed emphasis on physical planning — the grounded, tangible, place-bound matter of orchestrating human activity on the land — is essential to refocusing, recalibrating and renewing the profession. By this I do not mean regression back to the state of affairs circa 1935. Planning prior to the grassroots revolution was shallow and undisciplined in many respects. Most of what was embraced post-Jacobs must remain — our expertise on public policy and economics, on law and governance and international development, on planning process and community involvement, on hazard mitigation and environmental impact, on ending poverty and encouraging justice and equality. But all these should be subordinated to core competencies related to placemaking, infrastructure and the physical environment, built and natural. I am not suggesting that we simply toss in a few studio courses and call it a day. Planners should certainly be versed in key theories of landscape and urban design. But more than design skills are needed if planning is to become — as I feel it must — the charter discipline and conscience of the placemaking professions in coming decades.

Planning students today need a more robust suite of skills and expertise than we are currently providing — and than may even be possible in the framework of the two-year graduate curriculum. 15 Planners today need not a close-up lens or a wide-angle lens but a wide-angle zoom lens. They need to be able to see the big picture as well as the parts close up; and even if not trained to design the parts themselves, they need to know how all those parts fit together. They need, as Jerold Kayden has put it, to “understand, analyze, and influence the variety of forces — social, economic, cultural, legal, political, ecological, technological, aesthetic, and so forth — shaping the built environment.” 16 This means that in addition to being taught courses in economics and law and governance, students should be trained to be keen observers of the urban landscapes about them, to be able to decipher the riddles of architectural style and substance, to have a working knowledge of the historical development of places and patterns on the land. They should understand how the physical infrastructure of a city works — the mechanics of transportation and utility systems, sewerage and water supply. They should know the fundamentals of ecology and the natural systems of a place, be able to read a site and its landform and vegetation, know that a great spreading maple in the middle of a stand of pines once stood alone in an open pasture. They need to know the basics of impact analysis and be able to assess the implications of a proposed development on traffic, water quality and a city’s carbon footprint. And while they cannot master all of site engineering, they should be competent site analysts and — more important — be fluent in assessing the site plans of others. Such training would place competency in the shaping and stewardship of the built environment at the very center of the planning-education solar system. And about that good sun a multitude of bodies — planning specialties as we have long had them — could happily orbit.

We are far from this ideal today.

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Esta entrada fue publicada en Economia, Mezcla de Usos, Peaton, Urbanismo, Uso de Suelo, Vivienda y etiquetada . Guarda el enlace permanente.

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