Monday, May 01, 2006

Remembering Jane Jacobs

Last week’s sad passing of Jane Jacobs – the influential critic of urban planning whose 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities kick-started the preservationist movement – had me thinking about what would have befell many of our beautiful urban cores without her tough stand. It also made me remember the 1950’s master urban “renewal” plans for Washington – some that were unfortunately carried through to city-life sucking completion (e.g., Southwest DC), and others disasters luckily averted – such as blasting I-95 through the heart of DC.

Ever wonder why, when you take the I-395 North exit off the Southwest-Southeast Freeway, it suddenly and abruptly dead-ends at New York Avenue?
Well, that wasn’t the plan. The original scheme was for I-95 to cut straight through the heart of Washington and Prince George's County, straight north up to the Capital Beltway. Established and historic Northeast Washington neighborhoods in the way were to be sliced in half by the highway. Luckily, coming in the aftermath of the preservationist movement started by Jacobs, these neighborhoods stood in strong opposition to the plan, and in 1977 the city decided to take the earmarked highway funding and instead diverted it to the ongoing construction of the metro system.

Today, all these intact rowhouses, Victorians, and Colonials in Shaw, Mt. Vernon Triangle, Brookland, and Hyattsville, etc. – once seen as expendable - are sought-after, desirable homes for both the established families in these neighborhoods and new arrivals in the city. Sometimes less meddling, just letting communities “be” and encouraging unplanned, natural grow is the simple – and right - answer.


jackson on May 15, 2006, 7:59:00 AM said...

no thanks. traffic in the area is severely affected by the decicion not to continue 395 all the way to the beltway. what dc probably needs, as realized by the last "strategic plan" of the city, is to move the SE/SW freeway underground, much like boston's big dig. that would successfully merge the now cut off se/sw waterfront areas with the rest of the city. so...why not continue 395 much in the same manner up through ne washington and connect it with 95, thus easing congestion while maintaining the original plan?


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