Greenberg describes how, intoxicated by the promise of unfettered automobility, planners and city dwellers alike embraced and internalized this latter vision of city-dwelling and accepted it as desirable, normal and permanent.
However, as he stresses, this type of city can have no permanence in an era of energy scarcity, climate change and food insecurity. Greenberg’s account of the reactions against modernist planning (as pioneered by his mentor Jacobs in the 1960s) is integrated seamlessly with the narrative of his own educational and professional development as a young architect.
His early work in Toronto as well as his long association with Jacobs were formative for him; both the Toronto experience and the ideas of the late iconoclastic writer feature prominently here.
Greenberg sets out what he calls the “false trails and mirages” of postwar planning, including the imposition of preconceived development models – including iconic buildings, suburban-style malls, convention centres, stadiums and “festival marketplaces” – on struggling downtowns. These “quick fixes” as he calls them often fail because they have little relationship with, nor sensitivity to, the places in which they are deposited, and resist the incremental evolution that true urbanism requires and engenders. They rarely accommodate new needs or adjust to changed circumstances.
What is needed instead, he suggests, is what he calls “urban judo”: the ability of a city to recognize and capitalize on the momentum generated by its own citizens living and working in inexpensive places where new, fresh ideas can be improvised and tested using existing assets.Significantly, he finds most valuable those assets in the public realm, which, in his view, has suffered the greatest decline in the automobile age. Parks, plazas and fine-grained street life were all too often blotted out in the rush to modernize cities, but are needed now more than ever to reconnect people to one another.