I recently spent several days in New York City. It was early May, the weekend of Jane’s Walks — free walking tours named after the urban planner and activist Jane Jacobs. I joined a walk on Brooklyn Heights. The leader was Sanford Ikeda, a scholar with a deep interest in Jane Jacobs.
Jacobs wrote several books, the best-known of which is The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). On our walk, Ikeda frequently mentioned this book, which was Jacobs’ first book. Her later books didn’t arouse much interest. According to Wikipedia, “A frequent theme of her work was to ask whether we are building cities for people or for cars.” She would have understood Ruskin’s maxim, “There is no wealth but life.”
One of her chief adversaries was Robert Moses, who wanted to build a highway through lower Manhattan. Jacobs was arrested while agitating against the Lower Manhattan Expressway. According to Wikipedia, Jacobs had a “strong influence” on Robert Caro, author of a “highly critical” biography of Robert Moses (The Power Broker). Jacobs spoke out on women’s issues, labor issues, and the Vietnam War, as well as on urban-planning issues.
“At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs’s prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.”1 Just east of Brooklyn Heights is Cadman Plaza, which Robert Moses created by bulldozing old buildings. Moses thought that Cadman Plaza would be Brooklyn’s Piazza San Marco.
But when the nearby government buildings close for the day, Cadman Plaza can become empty and unsafe, can become a wall separating neighborhoods. At night, Cadman Plaza may lack what Jacobs called “eyes on the street.” Jacobs liked the “urban jumble” of her own neighborhood in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood that had a mix of residential and commercial buildings, a neighborhood that had “eyes on the street” at night and in the daytime, a neighborhood whose crowded sidewalks witnessed an “intricate sidewalk ballet.” Jacobs opposed zoning laws that separated residential and commercial buildings. She had a libertarian streak, she respected natural development and criticized government projects. She criticized the construction of the World Trade Center, calling it a disaster for Manhattan’s waterfront.
Jacobs had some critics: people on the Left took her to task for overlooking the question of race, and for accepting gentrification. Cultural conservatives noted that she didn’t champion classical architecture. Jacobs is sometimes described as an admirer of Saul Alinsky, a community organizer whom Obama admired.
As we walked, Ikeda explained that Jacobs distinguished between “primary use” and “secondary use.” A museum or movie theater would be primary use — people go to the neighborhood for the museum or movie theater. On the other hand, a secondary-use building would be a fast-food restaurant — people don’t go to the neighborhood for the sake of the fast-food restaurant. Jacobs believed in “mixed primary use” neighborhoods — for example, a neighborhood that would draw people in the daytime with a museum, and draw people at night with a movie theater. Thus, there would be “eyes on the street” both day and night.
Jacobs was born in 1916 into a WASP family in Pennsylvania. Her father was a doctor, her brother a judge. Her maiden name was Jane Butzner.
Jacobs moved to New York City in 1935. She didn’t graduate from college, but she took some classes at Columbia. She worked as a journalist, sometimes freelance, sometimes on the payroll of a magazine. Her work for an architecture magazine introduced her to urban planning, urban renewal, etc.
Jacobs was married and had three children. Disdaining the suburbs as “parasitic,” she remained in the city with her family.
She moved to Toronto in 1968, and continued her activism there; she moved partly so that her sons wouldn’t be drafted. She died in 2006, at age 89.
Our tour guide, Sanford Ikeda, often praised another guide, Francis Morrone, calling him one of the world’s best tour guides. Morrone is affiliated with the Municipal Art Society, so if you want to take one of his walks, perhaps you should go to their website. Morrone teaches at NYU, writes books about NewYorkCity architecture, and formerly wrote a column for a newspaper called The New York Sun.
Morrone is a champion of classical architecture, and a disciple of Henry Hope Reed, whom I mentioned in an earlier issue. According to Morrone,
|Reed basically invented the New York City architectural or historical walking tour, in 1956, for the Municipal Art Society.... His 1959 book The Golden City stands as the clarion manifesto of anti-Modernism.... Mr. Reed’s other great passion is landscape gardening. In 1966 Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving named Mr. Reed to a brand-new position: curator of Central Park. Few people know Central Park so intimately as does Mr. Reed. Among his books is Central Park: A History and a Guide, co-written with Sophia Duckworth. Mr. Reed also co-wrote The Bridges of Central Park.2|
Reed played a key role in starting The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, which tries to train classical architects. Reed was influenced by Ruskin.
One might compare Reed to Clay Lancaster, whose 1961 book on Brooklyn Heights “proved to be one of the earliest and loudest shots in the historic preservation struggle in New York City.” In 1966, when Reed was appointed curator of Central Park, Lancaster was appointed curator of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. As Reed wrote a book on Central Park, so Lancaster wrote a book on Prospect Park. Lancaster was born in Kentucky and he wrote several books about Kentucky, including Ante Bellum Houses of the Bluegrass. Lancaster also spent part of his life in Nantucket, and wrote two books about Nantucket, one of which (The Architecture of Historic Nantucket) I mentioned in an earlier issue. Lancaster had a special interest in Asian culture, and he wrote a book called The Japanese Influence in America.
Lewis Mumford was a precursor of Jane Jacobs. For more than thirty years, Mumford was the architecture critic of The New Yorker. His book The City in History won the 1962 National Book Award. An earlier book, The Brown Decades, dealt with American architecture and urban life.
Mumford wrote extensively about the growth of technology and bureaucracy. He warned against “technology only for its own sake, which oppresses humanity as it moves along its own trajectory.”3 Mumford argued that
|Automobiles become obstacles for other modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycle and public transit, because the roads they use consume so much space and are such a danger to people. Mumford explains that the thousands of maimed and dead each year as a result of automobile accidents are a “ritual sacrifice” the American society makes because of its extreme reliance on highway transport.4|
Mumford supported Jane Jacobs’ effort to stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Like Jacobs, Mumford scoffed at the suburbs.
Perhaps Mumford should be grouped with the New York Intellectuals. He was born in Queens in 1895, and attended both City College and The New School. He didn’t earn a degree, however; he left college because of health problems.
Like other New York Intellectuals, Mumford was interested in literature and literary magazines. In 1919, he worked for The Dial, a magazine that published T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, etc. In 1929, Mumford published a book about Melville that helped to revive Melville’s reputation.
Mumford died in 1990, at the age of 94. He seems to have written two autobiographies: My Work and Days: A Personal Chronicle (1979), and Sketches from Life: The Autobiography of Lewis Mumford (1982).
One of Mumford’s successors as architecture critic for The New Yorker is Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters, The City Observed: An Architectural Guide to Manhattan, Up from Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York, and other works.
Here are some Brooklyn Highlights, perhaps suitable for a bike tour or an armchair tour. Most of these places are near “Downtown Brooklyn.”
A new park, still under construction, but worth a visit. The view is similar to the view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, but it’s at water level, while the Promenade is on the Heights. You can follow the paved path along the water for at least one mile.
To reach Brooklyn Bridge Park, take the pedestrian bridge from the street called Columbia Heights, or take Old Fulton Street west (toward the East River).
When your Brooklyn tour is over, you can get to Manhattan via a quick subway ride, or a scenic ferry ride.
To get to the next stop on this tour, take Old Fulton Street east (away from the water), then turn right on Everit, which becomes Columbia Heights.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, just north of the bridge
The Promenade (sometimes called the Esplanade) was built by Robert Moses, New York’s oft-criticized MasterBuilder. Moses took private land to create the Promenade, but I think everyone would agree that it was a very successful project. Moses deserves credit for it.
During the Revolutionary War, when colonial forces were out-numbered in Brooklyn, Washington retreated from Brooklyn Heights over the East River to Manhattan.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance,
and the Empire State Building in the far distance
Around 1860, people came to Plymouth Church to hear the preaching of Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher’s sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Beecher’s fans came from Manhattan on Sunday mornings in a flotilla of “Beecher Boats.” Beecher was an abolitionist, and wanted to send rifles to Kansas to fight the pro-slavery forces; he said a rifle was as good as a Bible, so people referred to rifles as “Beecher Bibles.”
The architecture of Plymouth Church is somewhat attractive, but difficult to label. Some say the design is Italianate, others say the design is that of an unadorned New England Protestant church. Plymouth Church was built in 1849. (If you’re biking to the next stop, take Henry Street south, then turn right on Love Lane, which will bring you to College Place.)
57 Orange Street, between Henry and Hicks
A dead-end street with old carriage houses. The quietest spot in Brooklyn Heights.
Another street of carriage houses is Grace Court Alley, near the corner of Hicks and Remsen. Opposite Grace Court Alley is Grace Court, a dead-end street with “stunningly deep gardens that stretch back from the Remsen Street houses. The end of Grace Court has its own mini-Promenade.”5
One of the most handsome buildings in Brooklyn Heights, built about 1880 in the Queen Anne style. The Society offers tours of their building/exhibits and, occasionally, the neighborhood. One of their specialties is genealogy (one in seven Americans has a Brooklyn ancestor). Click here for the Society website. To get to the next stop, go west on Montague Street, the most commercial street in Brooklyn Heights.
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street, corner of Pierrepont and Clinton
A carriage house built in 1880, with a rare Dawn Redwood on the right. Some say Arthur Miller lived here.
151 Willow Street
151 Willow Street, with Dawn Redwood on right
We can’t go through Brooklyn Heights without paying a call on Thomas Wolfe because “he had a thing to tell us.” Wolfe lived at 5 Montague Terrace, “in two rooms on the fourth floor, from 1933 to 1935.... Look for the plaque commemorating Wolfe between the windows to the left of the door.”6 For a literary tour of Brooklyn Heights, click here. For more detailed information, there’s Evan Hughes’ book Literary Brooklyn. There’s also a Brooklyn Book Festival in mid-September, which calls itself “the largest free literary event in New York City.” To get to the next stop, go east on Remsen Street.
Wolfe residence, 5 Montague Terrace
Built in 1848 in Greek Revival style. Originally “City Hall”; Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898, when it was merged into New York City. Just south of Borough Hall is the Municipal Building (1926). North of Borough Hall stretches a series of parks, playgrounds, and war memorials, the largest of which is Cadman Plaza. This series of parks forms a mall or linear park from Borough Hall to the Brooklyn Bridge; the mall was built in the 1930s. The Big Onion Guide To Brooklyn says “the Cadman Plaza strip [is] probably the most destructive of the urban renewals that affected downtown Brooklyn,” and Big Onion blames Robert Moses for building it.7 Just west of Borough Hall is the 1901 Temple Bar Building, which features three cupolas (two on the east side of the building, a third on the west side); “some in Brooklyn consider the Temple Bar Building to be Brooklyn’s finest tall structure after the Williamsburgh Bank Building.”8
Brooklyn Borough Hall, with the Municipal Building behind it
Just east of Borough Hall is the Fulton Mall, a half-mile stretch of Fulton Street that allows only pedestrians and buses; it’s rather unattractive, so you may want to skip it.
Just north of Fulton Mall is MetroTech, a business and education center.
Named after Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island, sometimes called George Washington’s second-in-command. In the center is the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, which was designed by Stanford White and completed in 1908; it commemorates the American soldiers who died in British prison ships. On the eastern side of the park is a street called Washington Park, which has “a gorgeous row of Italianate brownstones.”9 The Fort Greene neighborhood is considered Brooklyn’s art district.
Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, Fort Greene Park
Clinton Ave., between Willoughby and DeKalb, is “one of the finest urban aesthetic experiences in New York,”10 with Charles Pratt’s mansion, and three mansions that Pratt built for his sons. Charles Pratt made his fortune from oil and kerosene.
Three blocks east of Clinton Ave. is Pratt Institute, which was founded by Charles Pratt and specializes in art and design. Pratt Institute is in the Clinton Hill neighborhood (Clinton Ave. is the eastern edge of the Fort Greene neighborhood, and the western edge of the Clinton Hill neighborhood).
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is the oldest performing arts center in the country; the main building, known as the Peter Jay Sharp Building, was built in 1908.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Just south of the Academy of Music, at 1 Hanson Place, is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, now HSBC Bank. “Built between 1927 and 1929, this nicely massed Spanish Revival, Art Deco setback structure is well known for its four clocks (one on each face of the building’s tower).”11
Just south of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank is Barclays Center, an arena for sports, concerts, etc. You can tour the arena, on certain days, for $24. Next-door is the Atlantic Terminal, a major subway/rail terminal.
The Cobble Hill neighborhood is just over Atlantic Avenue from Brooklyn Heights (Cobble Hill is south of Brooklyn Heights). To get a taste of residential Cobble Hill, go south on Henry Street, or north on Clinton. To see a commercial street, go south on Court Street. (If you’re walking, you can go in either direction, but if you’re biking, you don’t want to go the wrong way on a one-way street.) Smith Street (between, say, Warren St. and Atlantic Ave.) is known as Restaurant Row.
On my map, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Carroll Gardens are marked with colored areas, but no letters, so the letters appear to jump from P to T.
Just east of Cobble Hill is the neighborhood of Boerum Hill.
Carroll Gardens is just south of Cobble Hill. When it was laid out in 1846, the houses were set back from the street by about 30 feet, creating space for front gardens. “Carroll Gardens was settled by Irish Americans in the early 19th century.” Around 1920, Italians began replacing Irish. “Carroll Gardens has seen a strong French immigration since the late 1990s.... The neighborhood is sometimes referred to now as Little France or Little Paris.” The main commercial street, Smith Street, is “a rejuvenated row of cafés, boutiques and clubs that draws people from outside the neighborhood.”12 Court Street is also commercial. Carroll Gardens is named for Charles Carroll of Maryland, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
If you walk east on Carroll Street to the Gowanus Canal, you’ll come to the Carroll Street Bridge. The bridge was built in 1889, and is one of only two retractable bridges in New York City (the city has about 2,000 bridges). You may see some kayaks and houseboats in the canal.
The Montauk Club is a private social club; it has long been a gathering-place for Brooklyn gentry, and politicians from Grover Cleveland to Bobby Kennedy have visited. It was built in 1890 in the Venetian Gothic style — more specifically, it was inspired by a Venetian building called Ca’ d’Oro. It’s at 25 8th Ave., corner of Lincoln Place.
5th Ave. in Park Slope is a commercial hotspot, like Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, and Smith Street in Carroll Gardens.
The Montauk Club
Grand Army Plaza is at the northwest corner of Prospect Park. It has a triumphal arch commemorating Civil War soldiers. Just east of the arch is the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, built in 1940 in the Art Deco style.
Grand Army Plaza
Slightly further east is the Brooklyn Museum, built in 1895 in the Beaux-Arts style.
Behind the museum (south of the museum) is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
In the southern section of the park, just north of the lake, follow a road called Wellhouse Drive across Terrace Bridge, from west to east. (Click here for a Google map, here for a PDF map.) After crossing Terrace Bridge, take the path to the right, along the water. Soon you’ll see the Lincoln statue on your left. Erected in 1868, the statue depicts Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln statue, Prospect Park
Walk past the Lincoln statue and through Concert Grove to the Oriental Pavilion, which Big Onion calls “A wonderful Victorian structure, combining elements of English garden architecture with Moorish, Romanesque, Chinese, and Egyptian styles.”13 Designed by Calvert Vaux in 1874, the Oriental Pavilion burned in 1974 and was rebuilt.
Oriental Pavilion, Prospect Park
Continue walking, leaving the Pavilion on your right. Walk under a bridge called the Cleft Ridge Span, which was built in the 1870s from poured concrete, an inexpensive alternative to carved stone.
Cleft Ridge Span, Prospect Park
|The Camperdown Elm, planted near the Boathouse in 1872, has developed into a stunning specimen. No more than 12 feet high, it resembles an oversized bonsai. It is the most famous specimen tree in Prospect Park. The weeping shape of this elm is extremely attractive and a peek under the canopy reveals an amazing branching structure. The many cavities in the branches and the size of the trunk show that this is an older tree. Between 1835 and 1840, the Earl of Camperdown’s head forester... discovered a mutant contorted branch growing along the ground in the forest at Camperdown House, in Dundee, Scotland. The Earl’s gardener produced the first Camperdown Elm by grafting it to the trunk of a Wych Elm.... Every Camperdown Elm in the world is the product of a cutting taken from that original mutant cutting.|
Camperdown Elm, Prospect Park
Enter through the main gate, in the northwest corner of the cemetery, at 25th Street and 5th Avenue. If you’re biking, you’ll have to leave your bike at the entrance (biking and jogging aren’t allowed in the cemetery). The entrance gates were designed by Richard Upjohn and his son Richard Michell Upjohn; they were built about 1862 in the Gothic style.
After passing through the entrance gates, bear left on Battle Ave. After a short distance, you’ll see Bay View Ave. on your left, stay straight on Battle Ave. After a short distance, you’ll see Highland Ave. on your right, stay straight on Battle Ave. After a short distance, Bay View will re-join Battle on your left, and you’ll see a pyramid built for Egyptologist Albert Parsons; Big Onion calls it “A magnificent pyramid.... a wonderful example of Green-Wood’s vast array of artistic monuments.”14
Parsons Monument, Green-Wood Cemetery
Continue on Battle as it winds to the right and climbs; you’ll see Fern Ave. on your right. Continue straight, climb stairs to the top of Battle Hill, Brooklyn’s highest point. There you’ll find the Soldiers’ Monument (1869), and a view of Manhattan.
Battle Hill was the scene of fighting in the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place in 1776. Follow Battle Path to the nearby statue of Minerva (1920), whose left hand salutes the Statue of Liberty, which faces east toward Paris.
When Proust drove through the French countryside, he noticed that the church spires performed a dance, changed places. When I cycled through Queens, I noticed that the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building changed places. If you look at these skyscrapers from directly across the East River (from Long Island City), the Chrysler Building is on the right because it’s north of the Empire State Building. But if you’re looking down at the two skyscrapers from northern Queens, near Astoria Park, the Chrysler Building is on the left because it’s east of the Empire State Building. So the skyscrapers perform a Proustian dance as you move through Queens.
While Brooklyn is a popular place to live, many tourists overlook it. So Brooklyn hotels seem to offer better values than Manhattan hotels. Consider, for example, Dazzler Brooklyn, which has a central location. Some people find affordable hotels on the west side of the Hudson River, in New Jersey.
I saw a movie called The Tree of Life, made in 2011 by Terrence Malick. It has some beautiful scenes and some beautiful music, but the plot wanders. One of the stars of the film, Sean Penn, said “A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact.”15
The film begins with a quote from the Book of Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Like the Book of Job, the film tries to justify the ways of God, tries to justify suffering, tries to grasp the meaning of life. Roger Ebert called The Tree of Life one of the ten best films ever made.
I also saw Malick’s first film, Badlands (1973). It’s very violent, it’s based on a 1958 murder spree. I don’t recommend it. But critics have high regard for it — high regard for its lyricism, and for the way it captures small-town America.
Malick graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1965, majoring in philosophy. Then he went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, but clashed with his tutor, and left without a degree. In 1969, he published a translation of one of Heidegger’s works.
A. I saw The Dresser, a 1983 movie about an aging, half-dead English actor, who summons the strength for a performance of Lear. He’s prodded, encouraged and dressed by his “dresser.” The setting is England during World War II, and bombs are falling around the theater. One might call it a play within a play, a Lear within a Lear. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but not bad.
B. Suzuki said, “Life doesn’t have meaning, life is meaning.” This is similar to the point I made in my videos: The universe doesn’t have an intelligent creator and governor, the universe itself is intelligent.
C. In 1989, a female jogger was raped and beaten in Central Park.16 Five young men confessed to committing the crime, but later said that they were innocent, that they confessed under pressure. They were convicted, and served their terms in juvenile prison, but later another man was convicted of the crime, and the convictions of the “Central Park Five” were vacated. It was believed that the five were guilty of other crimes committed on the same night, but not this particular crime. The five men sued New York City, and the suit was recently settled for $40 million, or $8 million per person.
Justice is often imperfect; people are wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully exonerated, every day. We can’t fix these imperfections by paying large sums of money. We shouldn’t ask only, What do these five men deserve? We should also ask, What can society afford to pay? What should taxpayers be asked to pay? As long as we spend public money so freely, we’re going to have governments in the red. We’re too litigious, we spend too much money in legal actions.
A. About a week ago, the U.S. soccer team defeated Ghana. The winning goal was scored by John Brooks, a substitute who wasn’t expected to play. Before the game, Brooks had dreamed that he scored the winning goal, and had told some teammates about his dream. In his dream, he scored in the 80th minute, on a header, after a corner kick — very much like it happened in the game. And after the goal, he acted strangely, he seemed astonished. Click here for an article about the goal, here for a video.
B. A few days ago, the thought flashed through my mind that maybe someone in Taiwan was interested in my book (Conversations With Great Thinkers), maybe a publisher was interested in my book. The next day, I got an e-mail saying that a Chinese publisher wanted to publish my late wife’s translation of my book.
We often get these hunches about what’s going to happen, though we often disregard them. How can we master the art of listening to our hunches?
My wife’s translation is now old and obsolete. On the other hand, I have little hope of finding someone who’s both willing and able to translate the current version. Perhaps the best option is to publish the current English version.
|1.|| Wikipedia back|
|2.|| New York Sun back|
|3.|| Wikipedia back|
|4.|| Wikipedia back|
|5.|| Big Onion, p. 29 back|
|6.|| www.nycgo.com/articles/brooklyn-literary-tour-nyc back|
|7.|| The Big Onion Guide To Brooklyn, ch. 1, p. 8 back|
|8.|| Ibid back|
|9.|| Ibid, p. 44 back|
|10.|| Ibid, p. 49 back|
|11.|| Ibid, p. 35 back|
|12.|| New York Times back|
|13.|| Ch. 7, p. 175 back|
|14.|| Ch. 8, p. 191 back|
|15.|| Wikipedia back|
|16.||See Wikipedia back|