This article was originally published on Common Edge.
In the early 1980s, when I first saw the film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and then read the book, both by William H. Whyte, I was enthralled. I had met Holly, as he was affectionately known, while I was still a reporter at the New York Post in the 1970s, and we had great discussions about New York City, what planners got wrong, what developers didn’t care about. By the 1980s I was at work on my first book, The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way, and having conversations with Jane Jacobs, who would become my good friend and mentor. Jacobs had validated the small, bottom-up community efforts around New York City that I was observing and that would be the too-often-unacknowledged sparks to jumpstart the slow, steady rebirth of the city. My observations were resoundingly dismissed—even laughed at—by professional planners and urban designers, but they were cheered and encouraged by both Whyte and Jacobs, and today they are mainstream.