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Reason: And it comes from people who either have the power or the money or both to have their way?
Jacobs: Well, they have their way with the powers of eminent domain, government powers that were intended for things like schools and roads and public things, and are used instead for the benefit of private organizations and individuals.
That's one of the worst things about urban renewal. It introduced that idea that you could use those government powers to benefit private organizations. The courts never have given the kind of overview to this that they should. The time it went to the Supreme Court, back in the 1950s, the decision was that to make a place beautiful or more orderly or helpful, government could do what it pleased with eminent domain. That just left the door open. As one New York state official said at the time, "If Macy's wants to condemn Gimbel's, it can do it if Moses gives the word."
Reason: Robert Moses, the New York City planner and infamous power broker.
Jacobs: Yes. He's an extreme example, but in effect that's what the shift in eminent domain law did. But even before that, it was being done unofficially when what had grown big and successful was used to eat up, or wipe away, or starve what was not. You might as well have no birth rate and then wonder why there aren't people. If you don't have an entrepreneurial birth rate, you don't have new industries and new chances for other successes.
Reason: It seems virtually impossible for the biggest, clumsiest, most unenlightened government to squelch innovation and new growth. It might not come up in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh, but it will come up somewhere else, whether they like it or not.
Jacobs: Sure. Look at the big automobile companies in America and how they didn't make smaller cars, more economical ones that would run farther on gasoline. It took Japanese cars coming in, and German cars coming in. There was a market for them. But they were not being produced and designed by the big, rich, much more successful American companies. Then, when they saw what competition they had, the U.S. auto makers began to produce compact cars. But it sure was innovation from a long way off.
Reason: Do you think that the people who run American cities have learned what to do and what not to do?
Jacobs: I think some of them have learned a lot. There are quite a few cities that are more vigorous and more attractive than they were 10 or 20 years ago. A lot of good things are being done, but it's not universal.
Reason: Can you give me an example?
Jacobs: In Portland, a lot of good things are being done. Same with Seattle. San Francisco has done many attractive things.
Reason: What is it that you like about Portland?
Jacobs: People in Portland love Portland. That's the most important thing. They really like to see it improved. The waterfront is getting improved, and not with a lot of gimmicks, but with good, intelligent reuses of the old buildings. They're good at rehabilitation. As far as their parks are concerned, they've got some wonderful parks with water flows in them. It's fascinating. People enjoy it and paddle in it. They're unusual parks. The amount of space they take and what they deliver is just terrific.
They're pretty good on their transit too. It's not any one splashy thing. It's the ensemble that I think is so pleasant.
Reason: You are against regional planning and metropolitanism, yet isn't an important part of what's going on in Portland the pretty strong powers given to a regional planning authority?