All posts by Mike Zonta

Downtown is for People (Fortune Classic, 1958)

Editor’s note: Every week, publishes a favorite story from our magazine archives. In honor of the 50th anniversary edition of Jane Jacobs’ influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, we’re republishing one of Jacobs’ earlier articles in which the urban activist laid out the case against modernist planners.

If the downtown of tomorrow looks like most of the redevelopment projects being planned for it today, it will end up a monumental bore. But downtown could be made lively and exciting — and it’s not too hard to find out how.

By Jane Jacobs

This year is going to be a critical one for the future of the city. All over the country civic leaders and planners are preparing a series of redevelopment projects that will set the character of the center of our cities for generations to come. Great tracts, many blocks wide, are being razed; only a few cities have their new downtown projects already under construction; but almost every big city is getting ready to build, and the plans will soon be set.

What will the projects look like? They will be spacious, parklike, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery. And each project will look very much like the next one: the Golden Gateway office and apartment center planned for San Francisco; the Civic Center for New Orleans; the Lower Hill auditorium and apartment project for Pittsburgh; the Convention Center for Cleveland; the Quality Hill offices and apartments for Kansas City; the downtown scheme for Little Rock; the Capitol Hill project for Nashville. From city to city the architects’ sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.

These projects will not revitalize downtown; they will deaden it. For they work at cross-purposes to the city. They banish the street. They banish its function. They banish its variety. There is one notable exception, the Gruen plan for Fort Worth; ironically, the main point of it has been missed by the many cities that plan to imitate it. Almost without exception the projects have one standard solution for every need: commerce, medicine, culture, government—whatever the activity, they take a part of the city’s life, abstract it from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and set it, like a self-sufficient island, in majestic isolation.

There are, certainly, ample reasons for redoing downtown–falling retail sales, tax bases in jeopardy, stagnant real-estate values, impossible traffic and parking conditions, failing mass transit, encirclement by slums. But with no intent to minimize these serious matters, it is more to the point to consider what makes a city center magnetic, what can inject the gaiety, the wonder, the cheerful hurly-burly that make people want to come into the city and to linger there. For magnetism is the crux of the problem. All downtown’s values are its byproducts. To create in it an atmosphere of urbanity and exuberance is not a frivolous aim.

We are becoming too solemn about downtown. The architects, planners—and businessmen–are seized with dreams of order, and they have become fascinated with scale models and bird’s-eye views. This is a vicarious way to deal with reality, and it is, unhappily, symptomatic of a design philosophy now dominant: buildings come first, for the goal is to remake the city to fit an abstract concept of what, logically, it should be. But whose logic? The logic of the projects is the logic egocentric children, playing with pretty blocks and shouting “See what I made!”–a viewpoint much cultivated in our schools of architecture and design. And citizens who should know better are so fascinated by the sheer process of rebuilding that the end results are secondary to them.

With such an approach, the end results will be about as helpful to the city as the dated relics of the City Beautiful movement, which in the early years of this century was going to rejuvenate the city by making it parklike, spacious, and monumental. For the underlying intricacy, and the life that makes downtown worth fixing at all, can never be fostered synthetically. No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at the boulevards of Paris, as the City Beautiful people did; and they can’t find it by looking at suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities.

You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)

You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.

If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York’s handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?

It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.

How hard can a street work?

The best place to look at first is the street. One had better look quickly too; not only are the projects making away with the noisy automobile traffic of the street, they are making away with the street itself. In its stead will be open spaces with long vistas and lots and lots of elbowroom.

But the street works harder than any other part of downtown. It is the nervous system; it communicates the flavor, the feel, the sights. It is the major point of transaction and communication. Users of downtown know very well that downtown needs not fewer streets, but more, especially for pedestrians. They are constantly making new, extra paths for themselves, through mid-block lobbies of buildings, block-through stores and banks, even parking lots and alleys. Some of the builders of downtown know this too, and rent space along their hidden streets.

Rockefeller Center, frequently cited to prove that projects are good for downtown, differs in a very fundamental way from the projects being designed today. It respects the street. Rockefeller Center knits tightly into every street that intersects it. One of its most brilliant features is the full-fledged extra street with which it cuts across blocks that elsewhere are too long. Its open spaces are eddies of the streets, small and sharp and lively, not large, empty, and boring. Most important, it is so dense and concentrated that the uniformity it does possess is a relatively small episode in the area.

As one result of its extreme density, Rockefeller Center had to put the overflow of its street activity underground, and as is so often the case with successful projects, planners have drawn the wrong moral: to keep the ground level more open, they are sending the people into underground streets although the theoretical purpose of the open space is to endow people with more air and sky, not less. It would be hard to think of a more expeditious way to dampen downtown than to shove its liveliest activities and brightest lights underground, yet this is what Philadelphia’s Penn Center and Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center do. Any department-store management that followed such a policy with its vital ground-floor space, instead of using it as a village of streets, would go out of business.

Continue reading Downtown is for People (Fortune Classic, 1958)

Pope Francis Hosts Feathered Serpent God As Part Of Deity Exchange Program

VATICAN CITY—In an effort to strengthen their relationship and foster interfaith dialogue, Pope Francis reportedly welcomed the winged Mayan snake god Kukulkan to the Vatican this week as part of a month-long deity exchange program. “We are excited to have the War Serpent staying here with us for the next four weeks, during which time he’ll be exposed to the rituals and customs of the Catholic Church, so that when he returns home he can share the experience with his adherents in Chichén Itzá and the surrounding Yucután communities,” said Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke, noting that the pontiff had taken Kukulkan out for pizza on the first night of the exchange before showing him around some of Rome’s most famous landmarks. “Once Kukulkan gets settled in, the pope plans to let him answer some basic prayers on his own, as well as try performing a transubstantiation or two. And perhaps toward the end of his stay, if he’s feeling up to it, Kukulkan can treat us all to an authentic human sacrifice.” Vatican sources confirmed that as part of the exchange, God Almighty, Our Heavenly Father, would be spending the next month with the Taoist thunder god Lei Gong in the cloud kingdom over Tibet.

Charles Pierce as Mae West

“The worst thing about being an atheist is that you have nothing to say during an orgasm.”
–Charles Pierce as Mae West

Charles Pierce (July 14, 1926 – May 31, 1999) was one of the 20th century’s foremost female impersonators, particularly noted for his impersonation of Bette Davis. Wikipedia
Plus a bonus:  Charles Pierce as Bette Davis (Part 1 of 2)


Calvin profile

By Calvin Harris, H.W., M.

A Day in the life – September 02, 2016 – 4:45 a.m. Random thoughts going through my head as I am in that zone between asleep and fully awake, still in bed, before moving through the day:

Today starts The Prosperos Assembly, at the Westin Hotel, in Long Beach, California. Much has gone into the preparation of this Assembly “It feels like a birth; it should, more than 9 months has gone into its creation.”

“Make the effort and look for the Unexpected.”- Calvin Harris, H.W., M. strange to hear that statement from me. It must have come from the themes and images that have been playing out in my head all this week, such as:

Lost Horizon (1937), a film produced and directed by Frank Capra for Columbia Pictures based on James Hilton’s best-selling 1933 novel. In the story, a motley band of people find themselves thrown together on a plane, during War, in an attempt to escape from danger or death in China and find safety in England, but they find this plane ride delivers them to a very different and unexpected reality after an arduous and difficult climb together as “companions at the crossroads.”


Thane’s Teacher, George Gurdjieff (Mr. G.), who I have been told by Thane had a large group of pupils that followed him in crossing the Caucasus mountains during World War I across Eastern Europe to safety, through the raging battle lines of Bolsheviks and Cossacks in turn. With the help of his students, Gurdjieff eventually established a school in Fontainbleu, France, for the study and practice of methods of spiritual self-transformation, where Thane was privileged to attend. The Transformation was in the unlearning of what they “thought they could not do.”

I am up now, the time 7:10 a.m. Out on the Patio having coffee and in discussion with houseguest Cookie James, Richard Hartnett, We are discussing our histories together and how our lives have changed over the years through our friendship and association –  Quotes come to mind that will have seemed to pushed this Assembly gathering forward, at lease for me:

Thomas Merton wrote, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”

“Never think of results, just do!”  – Gurdjieff

“All real living is meeting.” – Martin Buber

“Love well, be loved and do something of value.” – Aristotle

“Give thanks to unknown blessings already on their way.”
— Native American proverb

Somewhere during the conversation, a discussion on the brain and how we could tap into conscious knowing by way of using science and art/music techniques of learning to rewire the brain. To have us do something different, to have a different outcome.

While this conversation is going on, I slipped into a revery of my thoughts:

When I was very young (I know that it is hard to believe I was ever very young) The world was still reeling from World War II, people were sick, tired, exhausted and disgusted with the wars. The political lies and intrigues to gain power, and the suffering caused by the war. It was only then that people of the world were willing to work together to put forth the efforts needed to change their world for the better. Strange that the movie, “Lost Horizon,” comes to mind again, where through the efforts of these characters on a path to somewhere from their former lives, they reach the summit Shangri-la, the Valley of the Blue Moon, Paradise – a place that offered far more than comfort or safety of their intended destination of England. But not without the ordeal to reach the summit, a trip that cost some much more than personal resources, time, money, energy, rather a chance to look at their core values, a chance to make a choice to go or to stay and work for “Paradise.”

Then Mr. G’s students came to mind, undergoing a trek which would mean the end of one way of life for the unknown. “Never think of results, just do!” Gurdjieff said. To march students across a continent, feeling unprepared for such a physical and ego deflating! experience because of the assurance in his teaching of truth and the power of “unlearning”. To make the theory of the classroom manifest itself in their daily practice and to a new reality.

I was thinking I did not know what the Assembly would hold, but I hoped through the months in preparations we could present an opportunity for our fellow Companions attending this Assembly to find after their efforts and struggles with expenses, travel, trust issues, and other challenges would, like the Companions in the Movie and Mr. G’s students, discover a truth buried in this ordeal that presented them with a new reality, and like the efforts of the companions…

I slipped out of this reverie in time to have my notes, clothes, toiletries ready and packed to put into Bob Biddle’s car (he had volunteered to drive me to the Westin Hotel for the Event.) Strange, but the last items that I brought out to put in his car were the Hawaiian Waikiki floral bouquet, and the four single strained “Ti leaf’ teacher’s lei from Island Floral for each of our podium teaching presenters. I thought a moment about Thane, “Uncle” George Naope and Hawaii.

On being dropped off at the Westin Hotel, and after unloading the car and stepping through its swing doors into its Lobby, a smile had come across my face, for symbolically I had entered “Paradise,” the Aloha Spirit of Agape.  There came to my ears the ancient chants, Hawaiian music, the sight of the sway of young men and women in the storytelling moves of the hula, and the smell of tuberoses and plumeria Flowers. An omen that for this weekend, as Thomas Merton wrote, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” That my “companions at the crossroads” had arrived, proud and willing to share the journey and the reflections of transforming fears into self-actualizing servants of Consciousness.

To Be Continued…

400 Words Shakespeare Gave Us

Join Artistic Director Rebecca J. Ennals and Resident Artists of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival for a fast and funny race through 400 of the very best words and phrases coined by Shakespeare. Whether you’re green-eyed with jealousy, feeling jaded, or just a little gloomy, this celebration of the 400th year of Shakespeare’s legacy is sure to make you laugh yourself into stitches, feel as merry as the day is long, or even declare that the world is your oyster.

“My Assembly talk” by Mike Zonta, H.W., M.


Here’s the talk I would have given at this year’s Prosperos Assembly held over the recent Labor Day weekend.  It’s short and sweet:

“We are so privileged to have this teaching (Translation, Releasing the Hidden Splendour, Crown Mysteries, 4th Way, Find Yourself and Live, Lucid Dreaming and so on), to know ourselves (to the best of our ability through self-observation and self-transcendence) as unique expressions of Infinite Mind, unique expressions of God Him/Herself, unique expressions of Life Itself (and not just as reflections, as some have suggested).   

“We are not just doddering, old, gray-haired 60- and 70-somethings celebrating our ability to still perambulate around the room.   

“We need to take this moment of reunion as an opportunity to refortify our efforts, wipe clean our glasses and resume (or assume) our ministry, directly or indirectly, with the youth (and the youthful) of this country, or whatever country we are part of, with renewed vigor because . . . that’s why we’re here.”

Broadgate Venus


Reclining serenely at the heart of Broadgate, this polished bronze nude overlooks Liverpool Street Station, giving a glimpse of romance in the hustle and bustle of London.  At five tons, Broadgate Venus” is one of Fernando Botero’s largest pieces and her generous curves are ever popular with passers-by, art students and amorous couples, many of whom pose for photos, perhaps hoping her son Cupid is there in spirit too.

The teenage Botero trained as a matador in the provinces, before moving to Bogota and travelling to Europe to study art history and painting. Thankfully for lovers of his work, Botero chose to follow his artistic talents, creating paintings, drawings and sculptures of exaggerated, rounded human and animal forms. Now based in New York and Paris, he has achieved international recognition and his works are included in major museum collections worldwide.

Robin Williams quotes


“The more you understand yourself, what you do and why you do it, frees you up to do other things and be other people.”
–Robin Williams

“Cocaine is the most selfish drug.”
–Robin Williams

Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, writer, singer and voice artist. Wikipedia