The bad news, Worcester, is that we may have some stinky corpses on our hands!
Jane Jacobs clearly labeled the four elements required to "generate exuberant diversity in a city's streets and districts." These are the must-haves:
- Mixed uses - A neighborhood, even one development project must have a combination of uses - residential, retail, commercial, industrial, etc.
- City blocks must be short so people can turn corners frequently to find the unexpected.
- There must be a mixture of old and new buildings. Never just tear down your infrastructure in one full swoop and build all new!
- High density. People must be packed together in high concentrations.
Because these four conditions are so important to building thriving cities and because we have made many development mistakes in Worcester over the past 60 years that goes contrary to these principle building blocks, I'm going to reiterate these ideas once again in Jane Jacobs' own words.
A city can realize its best potential, economically and creatively if it meets these four conditions:
So, now we turn to our city to evaluate our urban development program since the 1950s. How closely have we followed Jane Jacobs' formula for success? Proponents might point to past projects as generators of increased tax revenue and job creation. Proponents might shake their finger at me: what do YOU have against hockey rinks for our kids, new research facilities for the bio-tech industry, book lending from the library, healing centers for cancer patients, stadium seating concerts? These are all important and wonderful uses but Jane Jacobs in the Woo is simply asking some very different targeted questions.
Do our development projects promote an active street and sidewalk life?
Do our development projects create an interactive civic commons and enhance our sense of true community?
Do our development projects satisfy Jane Jacobs' four required conditions?
We are evaluating Worcester's past and present urban development projects: Worcester Center Galleria Mall, the Salem Square Development (library and the YWCA), DCU Center, St. Vincent/Medical City, Gateway Park, City Square and finally, the hockey rink project in the Canal District. Based on our pointed evaluation questions above, Jane Jacobs in the Woo would give these projects an "F", a resounding failing, F, pointing out that our deadened streets are primarily due to the size and model of these projects and how they interface with the surrounding physical landscape. These projects, for the most part, fail to meet any of Jane Jacobs' four requirements for exuberant districts. They are massive in scale, taking up large tracts of land, sometimes more than a full city block. The process of building these projects has resulted in the bulldozing of our old, historic infrastructure, urban renewal in its most destructive element. We can never get those old buildings back, Worcester. It's now gone and for what? The projects are mostly single use, low density affairs that belong more in sprawling suburbs than in a dense city. Indeed, these "park and enter" projects have served to "suburbanize" our city, especially our downtown core where most of them are located.
But let's stop talking now. Let me show you what I mean. Come for a walk with me to Major Taylor Boulevard. (Side note: Why is it called Major Taylor Boulevard after the famous cyclist when this street is like a highway and you take your life in your hands to bike there or cross it on foot?) We'll start at Medical City, travel on foot around the DCU Center and observe what is up.
In the post World War II automobile and suburbs age, cities had a choice between two urban development paradigms. From the very first groundbreaking of the Salem Square Development and the Worcester Galleria Mall, Worcester chose the urban renewal path of automobile-centric, single use, low density mega-projects cum parking garages. We chose an urban landscape designed for cars and not for people. Therefore, fifty years later, it should come as no surprise that our streets are filled with cars, our sidewalks demonstrate little "street ballet" and foot traffic and our residents hunger for open, spontaneous public meeting spaces that are lacking. The question is: can we learn from these past development mistakes? Can we turn this around?