Princess Cassandra of Troy was reincarnated a few thousand years later in Canada in the form of a grandmotherly urban futurist.
Irving Berlin once said that the world was fortunate that his music’s greatest performer, Ethyl Merman, had no vocal training. The same may be said about Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) who had no formal education in city planning, yet changed the way we look at the world. And how we live today.
She is best known for her still-influential 1961 book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
She detested suburbs which she called “ghastly communities” and recognized the obvious: Humans are social critters. Most people like to live near other people where they work and interact. Skyrocketing real estate prices are a testament to that obvious observation.
“Lack of variety in age and overhead is an unavoidable defect in large new shopping centers,” she wrote, adding “even the most successful cannot incubate the unusual — a point overlooked by planners of downtown shopping center projects.”
Sparks and Reno’s grandiose downtown redevelopment schemes over the past half-century have crashed and burned, torching hundreds of millions for such follies. You could shoot a cannon thru Victorian Square just about anytime and not hit anybody. Downtown Reno is a symphony of shuttered storefronts which city hall now treats with cosmetics. Changing the Reno Arch from warm, welcoming colors to icy blue will solve all problems, right?
Sparks lives on the edge of insolvency after subsidizing the Scheels/Marina corporate welfare project, blithely and blindly creating a competitor to its downtown corporate welfare debacle. The latter has been largely bulldozed for apartments, perhaps not a bad idea although city hall changed the rules in 2015 to import cheap labor.
Jacobs might approve of people being able to live within walking distance of their work.
Reno subsidized the Union Pacific train trench which has technically bankrupted the city. Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank can foreclose anytime they like and force court-imposed tax increases to pay the millions owed.
While Reno City Hall was partying away the future, the economy recovered and it turned out that not everybody had gone broke.
Largely without fanfare, small businesses sprang up in the oldest parts of downtown, followed by apartment construction — Jane Jacobs-style activity while city hall talked about abandoning streets for a pedestrian mall.
“There is no magic in simply removing cars from downtown,” Jacobs wrote, adding “the whole point is to make the streets more surprising, more compact, more variegated and busier than before — not less so.”
Jacobs could not save New York City’s Penn Station but stopped Robert Moses from destroying Greenwich Village for a freeway. She was not optimistic for the United States.
In her 1984 book “Cities and the Wealth of Nations,” she argued against both guns and butter. Military and domestic spending are always in conflict in any empire. Both lead to decline, Jacobs asserted.
The only solution she envisioned has begun to happen: Big countries breaking up into smaller ones. In 1984, she noted the success of Singapore and Norway. We’ve since seen the likes of the Czech Republic come into being and do very well. Yugoslavia had a chance, so did Iraq, both suffocated by religion-based war.
An independent Kurdistan and Catalonia might light the path to the future. But what about us?
After reading Jacobs and Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” during the early stages of Reaganomics, I posited that states and regions would band to together in common interest if the central government became increasingly responsive only to the whims of the wealthy.
And so here we are this week with a huge new Reaganesque giveaway to our untitled aristocracy.
The de facto dissolution of the formerly United States continues. Can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again?
Happy High Holly Days to you and yours.
Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 49-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com/ E-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org> Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.