Roberta Brandes Gratz on Planning by Bulldozer

Roberta Brandes Gratz, one of the most interesting and innovative thinkers on urban space and planning, weighs in on current discussions about bulldozing cities (this blog discussed it here) at Citiwire. She likens plans to bulldoze large swaths of cities to the urban renewal projects of the last century.

One is hard pressed to find a city or even a neighborhood that was ever regenerated through demolition of vacant buildings. Didn’t we learn of the hollow results from the discredited post-World War II urban renewal policies that destroyed — and for decades left bereft — vast tracks of troubled residential structures?

Granted some appealing urban gardens are now sprouting in these cities, where piles of debris might have accumulated. Clearly this is better than rubble-strewn lots.

But vast clearance? The fact is the presence of vacant buildings is nothing new in any of these cities; the condition in today’s recession and industrial collapse is just worse. No citywide benefits ever materialized from mass demolition. And the big-bang projects that have sometimes risen where neighborhoods once stood– stadiums, arenas, convention centers, malls and the like — have not only failed in their promise and cost dearly but provided no fundamental basis for citywide resilience in good times or bad.

Her book The Living City: How America’s Cities Are Being Revitalized by Thinking Small in a Big Way is a classic and a must-read for anyone interested in how cities can be transformed by small, locally-based solutions. I was fortunate enough to meet her last year and discuss her work in the context of post-Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans with some of the founders of the New Orleans Institute for Resillience and Innovation.