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Mourning the loss of Fred Siegel, New York’s urban giant

Some “urbanists” are urbanists in concept.

They’ll lecture about the way it’s good for folks to stay in cities as a result of cities are good for the surroundings and for development.

However these urbanists don’t seem to like cities.

Fred Siegel, the city historian who died final weekend at 78, actually cared about cities as a result of the near-lifetime Brooklynite preferred folks, numerous completely different folks, in a single place.

Fred, my Metropolis Journal colleague, didn’t see urbanism as a concept however as a contact sport.

He began grownup life as a liberal, like a lot of his era, which got here of age within the Nineteen Sixties.

Fred didn’t desert the left as a result of he learn one thing that modified his thoughts. No, he abandoned as a result of looters burned down his favourite restaurant.

Simply after New York’s 1977 blackout riots, he was strolling by means of Williamsburg to Jack’s Pastrami King, wanting “hand-sliced pastrami, served on scrumptious rye bread smeared with Ba-Tampte mustard.”

Fred had been so naïve that he hadn’t thought-about the looting may need broken Jack’s.

The block was so burned out he couldn’t even discover Jack’s storefront.

A Subway waits in New York City - the doors are closed.
In 1991, Siegel wrote, “Public area is each the glory and disgrace of New York,” with Gothamites repelled from parks, streets, and subways by “the indignities of on a regular basis interplay.”
Getty Photographs

“Informed that the vandalism that had destroyed Jack’s Pastrami King was an act of liberation, I misplaced a lot of my political innocence,” he remembered.

Fred knew how vital it’s to safeguard public areas.

In 1991, he wrote, “Public area is each the glory and disgrace of New York,” with Gothamites repelled from parks, streets, and subways by “the indignities of on a regular basis interplay,” from aggressive panhandlers to drunkenness.

He foretold that New York’s then-new method to public areas, together with the maxim “Good makes use of will drive out dangerous,” would succeed.

Make a park inviting by means of occasions corresponding to highway races to film nights, and sufficient folks will come to make the park uninviting to drug customers and johns.

Many years later, Fred was early to see that New York’s success was in peril.

In 2016, he wrote that open-air pot use and untreated mentally unwell homeless have been endangering “probably the most seen triumph of New York’s historic revival.”

Fred cared about these things as a result of he lived it.

After I met him for a gathering at Cooper Union, the place he taught historical past, I discovered him on the sidewalk in a state of shaken outrage.

“God-awful,” he stated. “God-awful.” Fred was as upset as a traditional individual would have been to discover a decomposed physique on the sidewalk.

I noticed Fred was speaking in regards to the constructing itself, Cooper Union’s starchitect-designed educational middle, which the Instances known as “a daring architectural assertion of real civic worth.”

Fred’s take: “Are you able to consider they constructed this monstrosity?”

Fred went to the constructing often, and each time, he was freshly shocked and upset, after most individuals, if that they had seen in any respect, would have stopped noticing.

Fred tempered everlasting outrage with an curiosity in folks — all folks.

What I principally keep in mind about Fred was that he was all the time joyful to see me — and it wasn’t simply me.

He’d present up at conferences, dinners, and events as a result of he actually wished to see his pals, or his enemies, or strangers and argue.

Siegel didn’t see urbanism as a theory but as a contact sport, according to close friends.
Siegel didn’t see urbanism as a concept however as a contact sport, in keeping with shut pals.
AFP by way of Getty Photographs

Fred cared what folks thought — and he took younger folks critically.

Sure, he fretted in regards to the mind of America’s youth; he informed me it didn’t trouble him that his college students didn’t find out about World Conflict II, but it surely did trouble him that they didn’t find out about 9/11.

However Fred by no means developed the behavior of “professional,” that he had nothing to study from folks with much less expertise or studying than him.

He listened to what folks a long time youthful than him needed to say, even when he decided that 90% of it was flawed.

Siegel thought about the intellect of America’s youth, saying that it did bother him that young people didn’t know about 9/11.
Siegel thought in regards to the mind of America’s youth, saying that it did trouble him that younger folks didn’t find out about 9/11.
Getty Photographs/iStockphoto

I don’t suppose Fred ever stated my title and not using a “however” in entrance of it. After I stated one thing to him — something — his response would start, “However, Nicole. . .”

Fred wouldn’t have cared whether or not he obtained a Instances obituary.

However he would have appreciated that one New York mental took the chance the obituary introduced to criticize him.

“Whereas he understood the white ethnic working class, he didn’t perceive the Black and Hispanic poor and dealing class,” Columbia prof Ester Fuchs stated.

Fred isn’t right here to defend himself, however he’d level out what was apparent to him, if to not many “urbanists”: What black and Hispanic folks need is identical as what Fred wished — to not see his favourite restaurant burned down.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Metropolis Journal.

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