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Common\Edge continue this week’s celebration of the Jane Jacobs centennial with the second of their three conversations with leading urbanists. The talk is with Andres Duany, Planner, spiritual godfather of the New Urbanism, and architectural gadfly. Duany is also the author (along with Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck) of an influential polemic of his own, Suburban Nation, published in 2000
MCP: I read that Death & Life is one of the books that you periodically reread. Do you remember the first time you read it? Where were you at the time?
AD: I can be precise about that: In 1970, as a class assignment. The Princeton education under Robert Geddes was particularly interesting at that time. Many of the professors were from the U.K., people like Kenneth Frampton, Anthony Eardley and Neville Epstein. They didn’t have a Robert Moses, but they did have the top-down New Towns program. These were then just beginning to be questioned and for the same reason that Moses was here. Death and Life was assigned as a critique. Educationally it was a great moment: being presented with the wonders of Team 10 and also Jacobs’ compelling argument for the opposite.
All that modernist urbanism failed on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a tremendous intellectual crisis because of the extent of the social meltdown and because absolute power of design and implementation had been granted to the planners. With the advent of Michael Graves at Princeton, the conclusion drawn by the architectural intelligentsia was, well…if architecture couldn’t affect society, it should desist from the attempt and get on with the art of it. The Postmodernist discourse was to be self-referential—proposing an “autonomous architecture.” But what they should have concluded instead is that urbanism can affect society—to such an extent that it was able to transform viable communities to self-destruction. A vital neighborhood, however poor, with its small shops and workable social relationships, when re-housed in one of the Team 10 concoctions would, within a few years, implode socially. Jacobs correctly presented the case for the incredible power of design. Graves’ Postmodernists and the Decons later withdrew into symbolizing the situations—“critical discourse”—rather than trying to heal them as the New Urbanists do today. […]