Academic journal article American Studies

"BUILDING LIKE MOSES WITH JACOBS IN MIND": Contemporary Planning in New York City

Academic journal article American Studies

"BUILDING LIKE MOSES WITH JACOBS IN MIND": Contemporary Planning in New York City

Article excerpt

"BUILDING LIKE MOSES WITH JACOBS IN MIND": Contemporary Planning in New York City. By Scott Larson. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2013.

Among the questions raised by the November 2013 election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City was: would the ambitious building program of Michael Bloomberg's three-term administration continue? The progressive candidate's vic- tory makes uncertain the maintenance of recently transformed public spaces and the completion of in-process projects. Still to be seen is how de Blasio can privilege affordable housing without continuing his predecessor's incentivizing of private real estate developers.

Within this transitional moment, Scott Larson's "Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind": Contemporary Planning in New York City is a timely study. Lar- son does not set out to write a comprehensive record of projects undertaken in the previous twelve years, a topic partially tackled by Jayne Merkel's recent We Build the City: New York City's Design + Construction Excellence Program (2014). Instead, Larson's text is a narrative about narratives.

Larson's subject is both the recent history of the Bloomberg administration and the longer history of planning in New York City since the postwar period. He adopts a critical lens towards city administrators' selective calling-upon of the principles of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, manipulating the ideologies of each (often wrongly polarized as incommensurate) in service of advancing a bold agenda. In the context of reevaluations of Jacobs and Moses by urban historians such as Hillary Ballon, Kenneth Jackson, and Christopher Klemek in the last decade, Larson interrogates what it has meant for the Bloomberg administration to invoke the specters of Moses and Jacobs to advance its policy of selective rezoning and class-based urban devel- opment.

Larson positions Bloomberg's legacy as controlling space to maximize capital accumulation and benefit those of greater class privilege. Yet, recognizing Jacobs- inspired community-level resistance to large-scale municipal projects, this "neoliberal building spree" necessitated a "citizen buy-in to see it through" (77). …

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