This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
A year or so ago, I wrote that Jane Jacobs was the “original NIMBY” for opposing redevelopment in her neighborhood, and I noted the irony that new urbanists — those most likely to support her ideals — are now the ones most likely to do battle with NIMBYs of their own.
That thought was incomplete. Jacobs wasn’t opposed to redevelopment for its sake. She opposed redevelopment that put concrete and steel ahead of people. Redevelopment that tried in vain to create “order” out of the chaotic urban fabric. If Robert Moses had proposed leveling the Greenwich Village brownstones and replacing them with newer brownstones, I don’t think Jacobs would have had much of a fight. Moses wanted to build freeways. That was the problem.
I was thinking about this as I walked past an old, boarded up house in my neighborhood that’s set to be torn down. I thought about whether I should be sad that another 100-year-old house was being town down. But it’s never about the architecture. It’s about the people who live in it. New urbanists envy the 19th-century urban built environment — streetcars, brownstones, walk-up apartments — but we should never forget that it’s the neighborhood vitality created by that built environment that matters, not the wrap-around Victorian porches or intricate stone cornices themselves.