As we celebrate July 4th this year and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I’m focusing on small things going right in our land today. And right now, it is so refreshing to see a neighborhood in the Midtown Detroit area slowing down and purposefully embracing bikes and pedestrians.
You see, I’ve been a longtime fan of Jane Jacobs, the famous New York urban planning critic – and when I moved back to the metropolitan area I was delighted to see they were scheduling “Jane Walks”in her honor in the midtown area to show how neighborhoods were flourishing again. In fact, my interest goes back to when I was a senior at Cass Technical high school and wrote my thesis on why Jacobs thought Detroit was ready for a big fall. It mainly had to do with embracing all the erroneous urban planning doctrines then fashionable – including tearing up neighborhoods for freeways and defying the standards for encouraging healthy interactions and street life — instead creating huge complexes that destroyed the small shops, trees, roads and walkways that brought people together.
I had noticed that Second Avenue on the Wayne State University campus had suddenly gone from one way to two way traffic a week ago and wondered why the sudden change. Apparently the goal was a slower pace so the district could become pedestrian-friendly, according to journalist John Gallagher.
Gallagher cites advocates who maintain two-way streets produce benefits in many ways: “By slowing down traffic speeds, two-way streets foster fewer accidents despite the presence of ongoing traffic. Slower traffic makes life easier for pedestrians and bikers. That in turn makes neighborhoods more walkable, which draws new investment, reduces crime, and enhances prospects for economic development. “
Hope you’ll take a moment to read his article at http://on.freep.com/UYy1Ti
Have a happy, slower July 4th!
I first heard about Jane Jacobs in high school when I read her seminal book on urban renewal, The Life and Death of Great American Cities http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_and_Life_of_Great_American_Cities. My hometown of Detroit was profiled as one of the worst offenders in destroying livable neighborhoods with bad urban planning. I wrote my senior thesis on Jacobs and my fears for my beloved hometown and when I got to college I supported the work of the legendary community activist Saul Alinsky in fighting the destruction of Wayne State University’s surrounding neighborhoods.
I recently learned from a friend that followers of Jane Jacobs have now organized international “walks” in her honor through vibrant urban neighborhoods http://www.janejacobswalk.org/. In Detroit, there were three Jane Jacobs walks scheduled the weekend of May 4-5th, one of them in the historic Cass Corridor, one of the areas threatened back in my college days with urban renewal http://preservationdetroit.org/2013/03/19/janes-walk-detroit-cass-corridor-sunday-55-noon/. It was not the first time I had returned to the Wayne State University campus recently, but it was the first time I had returned to the Cass Corridor area covered in the walk. During my stormy college years, these blocks included the staging area for groups opposed to the Vietnam War, as well as many of the artists. Most of the original buildings date back to Detroit’s early days and have been restored to their former elegance. Some newer structures blend in and old apartment houses are being converted into trendy condos. New restaurants and shops are opening up throughout the area. I was especially thrilled to learn about the Green Garage, a non-profit that is an incubator for green businesses.
The tour was led by historians Armando Delicato and Elias Khalil, who wrote Detroit’s Cass Corridor, a history of the area, and they are now in the process of opening the Cass Corridor Museum http://www.casscorridormuseum.org. Jane’s Walks are an annual event the first week in May, in celebration of Jane Jacobs’ birthday (regrettably she died in 2006). I hope anyone unfamiliar with the legacy of urban activist Jane Jacobs will take a moment to learn about her impact on vibrant city planning and then find – or start — a walk to celebrate what’s great in your community.