South Street 2

Schermerhorn Row, South Street Seaport.

Continued from here.

In 1968, the same year that the replacement for New York's old Pennsylvania Station (Pennsylvania Plaza and Madison Square Garden) was completed, Schermerhorn Row on the southwest tip of Manhattan was designated an historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save it from destruction. It would eventually become part of a larger redevelopment: the South Street Seaport.

From the beginning the planning of the South Street Seaport was divided between a variety of interests including the mayor's Office of Development, the Seaport Museum and affiliates, the Maritime Museum, the state of New York, various financial institutions, the Rouse Company, and several design firms. However, as the developer, the Rouse company set much of the agenda for the site, and on the tail of recent successes James Rouse proposed a festival marketplace.[1]

The festival marketplace is an animal unique to its timefrom the mid 1970's to late 80's. Blending mall style shopping with entertainment venues and restaurants—wrapping it all in an historic, urban, vaguely European themed environment—festival marketplaces cropped up from Boston to San Francisco and even abroad. They were developed as public-private partnerships, heavily subsidized by government grants and loans,[2] and mostly out of the purview of city planners. Public interest capitalism replaced public interest planning. Again, the effects of Jane Jacobs revolution are felt.

Thomas Campanella recently reconsidered Jane Jacobs impact on the planning profession. While he attributes to her positive changes in the profession, he points to unintended side effects in the loss of disciplinary identity, professional agency, and vision.[3] To be fair, Jacobs implored planners to be more cognizant of the reality of the city in their work, however the backlash against planning went further. Planners have become bogged down in red tape intended to restrain them. Abuses of the kinds perpetrated by Robert Moses are past, but so are the possibilities exemplified by City Beautiful.

Also past is the festival marketplace. As the economic transformations promised by these developments came up short, the concept was abandoned and several such developments were shuttered. Due to the structure of these kinds of partnerships—where the city acts as a landlord collecting rent from the developer—as economic conditions deteriorate, the city is left holding the bag.[4]

Cities can and have been shaped to meet the needs of residents, if only the power to do so can be rendered effectively. Jane Jacobs legacy can be channeled to ensure that powers are not abused but also that expertise and authority are retained. When planning takes a back seat, private interests who have little accountability to the public will move in. And when change is resisted in one form (NIMBY-ism) it will find outlet in another (gentrification). Heeding Saint Jane's arguments on the complexity of urban issues goes hand-in-hand with formulating a new vision on what the city may be.


1. John T. Metzger, "The failed promise of a festival marketplace: South
Street Seaport in lower Manhattan," Planning Perspectives, issue 16 (2001), pg. 32.

2. Ibid, pgs. 25-46.

3. Thomas Campanella, "Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning," The Design Observer Group, 25 Apr 2011, Accessed 27 Oct 2011. <http://places.designobserver.com/feature/jane-jacobs-and-the-death-and-life-of-american-planning/25188/>

4. John T. Metzger, "The failed promise of a festival marketplace: South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan," Planning Perspectives, issue 16 (2001), pg. 44.

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