Nearly a half-century ago, activist Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a book often described as the most influential ever written on the subject of Urban Planning.
Jacob’s book was an “attack” on modern orthodox urban planning, and in particular, on Le Corbusier’s Radiant City model, which called for monolithic residential skyscrapers studded across the natural landscape and interconnected by elevated high-speed transportation corridors – an ultra-modern utopia promising spiritually-enriching open space and views for the masses!
Le Corbusier’s model heavily influenced HUD’s Urban Renewal movement in the 1950s and 1960s. However, its pitfalls became immediately evident, ultimately inciting Jacob’s 1961 salvo: Too much open space amidst the urban landscape inhibits society’s ability to self-govern – or – limits the number of “eyes upon the street”. Today most of the towers and parks built in the Radiant City tradition have been either razed, or remain as habitat for some of America’s worst infestations of crime, poverty, disease and drug use.
Many in favor of turning the isthmus into a park seek the same populist benefits promised by Le Corbusier. But, like Le Corbusier, they overlook the inevitable outcome of such land use. On the other hand, cradling Heritage Park and Percival Landing within residential, retail and commercial activities – which is to say the everyday activities of citizens – would sew these two great public spaces deeper into the fabric of our downtown, nurturing a sense of safety, function, vibrancy and civic virtue in and around them.