THE LIVING CITY by Roberta Brandes Gratz


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The life of a city begins and ends on the street,"" insists Gratz, a former New York Post reporter who began following the urban preservation movement in the early Seventies. And the solution to urban deterioration, she emphasizes here, is not costly, disruptive, heavily subsidized megaprojects imposed from above--but separate, innovative, small-scale actions undertaken by neighborhood residents. Among the models Gratz cites are Savannah--Georgia's well-connected historic preservation movement, which revived downtown neighborhoods without displacing low-income residents--and the Banana Kelly movement on Kelly Street in the South Bronx, a snowballing success story that began with one resident family saving three abandoned buildings from demolition and rallying the community with the slogan ""Don't Move, Improve."" In the commercial arena, Gratz deplores both regional shopping centers as destructive of downtowns and the enclosed downtown malls often constructed in misguided defense. As alternatives she points to Ithaca, N.Y., and other communities that have pursued a Main Street Strategy of ""economic development within the context of historic preservation."" In dealing with urban revitalization, Gratz acknowledges the phenomenon of gentrification and displacement but more or less dismisses the problem as a function of the pace of renewal; the concern seems imposed here on her true, 70's style enthusiasm for urban preservation. Also, though she acknowledges that ""the partnership between elected officials and developers is usually too potent to overcome by persuasion,"" she shows no interest in analyzing the forces at work; instead, she is satisfied with pointing with approval or blame. Despite the flaws, Gratz's is a message worth noting as long as planners, politicians, and developers continue to impoverish our cities; and her emphasis on positive examples offers other community preservationists some sorely needed encouragement.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster