For Metropolis Magazine, March 2001
JHK: Well, it's possible that my proposition is a fallacy. But what if it’s not?
JJ: I basically don't think that the way we do things is that dependent on one resource, such as oil. There can be different kinds of engines for cars. I think that solar heating, wind heating can substitute for a lot of uses for oil. I’d like to see those things happen because they are more sustainable in any case. But I do not think that running out of oil is not going to bother us that much. I think we have got to be rescued by something or we really are going down a slippery slope.
JHK: If its not petroleum then what is it that is putting us in peril?
JJ: I don’t think probably any one thing. Nothing is so clear in history that is it happens for any one thing. It seems that a lot of things come together to make great changes. And I think that one of the things is a reaction against Modernism in this case and everything associated with it
JHK: But we are stuck with all this stuff?
JJ: Yes now that’s the next thing. I do not think that we are to be saved by new developments done to New Urbanist principles. That’s all of the good and I am very glad that New Urbanists are educating America. I think that when this takes hold and when enough of the old regulations can be gotten out of the way—which is what is holding things up, that there is going to be some great period of infilling. And a lot of that will be make-shift and messy and it won’t measure up to New Urbanist ideas of design—but it will measure up to a lot of their other philosophy. And in fact if there isn’t a lot of this popular and make-shift infilling, the suburbs will never get corrected. It’s only going to happen that way. And I think that it will happen that way.
JHK: I have the greatest admiration for the New Urbanists. The hardest work for them to do is the urban infill.
JJ: But nobody is even thinking about now is the suburban infill.
JHK: Personally I think that a large percentage of the residential suburbs are going to be the slums of the future. Some of them will be rescued. Some of them won’t be. In your book The Cities and the Wealth of Nations you focused on quote "the master economic process called import replacement." The idea that a city and its region would only prosper if over time it started to furnish for itself many of the goods or services that it formerly imported. For instance, the rise of the U.S. as a great commercial nation in the late 19th century was a direct result of our cities starting to make the tools and machines and finished goods that we formerly got from Europe. With the latest model of the so-called global economy we are given to believe that import replacement is no longer significant. To the extraordinary degree that an overwhelming majority of the products sold in the U.S. are made elsewhere. Is this a dangerous situation?
JJ: (she chuckles) Well I think that it’s a more dangerous situation—the standardization of what is being produced or reproduced everywhere, where you can see it in the malls, in every city, the same chains, the same products are to be found. This goes even deeper with the trouble with import replacing because it means that new things are not being produced locally that can be improvements or anyway different. There is a sameness—this is one of the things that is boring people—this sameness. This sameness has economic implications. You don’t get new products and services out of sameness. Now the Americans haven’t gotten dumbed down all of the sudden so that only a few people who can decide on new products for change are the only ones with brains. But it means that somehow there isn’t opportunity for these thousands flowers to bloom anymore.
JHK: Well the million flowers are now blooming mostly in China. I don’t know about you—every product I pick up is made in China. I’m not against the Chinese. But it makes you wonder how long we go on having an advanced civilization without making anything anymore. Can we?
JJ: I don’t think so.
JHK: It seems to me that what we are doing is we are buying a lot of stuff from other people by basically running up tremendous unprecedented amounts of debt. That can only go on so long.
JJ: But you know we aren’t complete dolts in all of this. For example, we don’t manufacture our own computers. They are made mostly in Taiwan but they aren’t designed in Taiwan.
JHK: We hand them a set of blueprints and they make the stuff for them.
JJ: There are still an awful lot of intelligent, clever constructive Americans and they are still doing clever constructive things. Is it more necessary to be able to design computers or is more necessary to be able to manufacture computers. I think that it is necessary to do both. I think it is fatal to specialize. And all kinds of things show us that and that the more diverse we are in what we can do the better. But I don’t think that you can dispose of the constructive and inventive things that America is doing—and say oh we aren’t doing anything anymore and we are living off of what the poor Chinese do. It is more complicated than that. There is the example of Detroit which you noticed yourself was once a very prosperous and diverse city. And look what happened when it just specialized on automobiles. Look at Manchester when it specialized in those dark satanic mills, when it specialized in textiles. It was supposed to be the city of the future.
JHK: We have an awful lot of places in America that don’t specialize in anything anymore and don’t produce anything in particular anymore.
JJ: Well that’s better than specializing.
JHK: I am thinking about the region where I live which is a kind of a mini rust-belt of upstate New York—one town after another where the economy has completely vanished. There is no more Utica, New York, really. There is no more Amsterdam, New York, or Glen’s Falls or Hudson Falls. They are gone. And I am wondering, is the rest of America going to be like that.
JJ: Never underestimate the power of a city to regenerate.
Note: Years later, in a review of Garden Cities of Tomorrow in the New York Review of Books dated April 8, 1965, Mumford wrote:
". . . Jane Jacobs preposterous mass of historic misinformation and contemporary misinterpretation in her The Life and Death of Great American Cities exposed her ignorance of the whole planning movement."