Roberta Brandes Gratz is an urban critic, journalist, and consultant based out of New York City. She is the author of The Battle For Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way and Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown. Gratz works to make urban revitalization more about creating places and less about pushing projects. Rejecting simplistic cookie-cutter prescriptions for success, Gratz advocates a more flexible, incremental and effective approach to downtown rejuvenation: urban husbandry. She illustrates how this organic, sustainable process empowers local placemaking by promoting low-cost community-based initiatives over large-scale trickle-down renewal projects.
“Roberta Gratz is wonderful at discovering important things that are going on that most of us have not yet heard of.”
— Jane Jacobs
“A love song for the city… [Cities Back from the Edge], attractively packaged and richly illustrated, is really a cookbook for downtown revitalization.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“Gratz takes us on tours of places that are doing better and actually getting somewhere, because, against all odds, they have abandoned conventional wisdom’s unworkable and oversimplified formulas and re-embraced new opportunities as complex and rewarding as life itself.”
— Tony Hiss
About The Battle For Gotham:
“Roberta Gratz poignantly weaves her own life story of urbanistic exploration together with the story of the battle of ideas between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs to give the reader a palpable sense of complex urbanism. The result is an elucidation of how to make a better city.” Jonathan Rose, president, Jonathan Rose Corporation.
“For close to 50 years, Roberta Brandes Gratz has – with tenancity, acuity and brio – been fighting the good fight for humane and sustainable cities. Her latest report from the trenches is filled with tales of villainy but, more importantly, with an unshakeable and persuasive hope for a better future. Like those of her great mentor, Jane Jacobs, her prescriptions are both logical and personal, precise and visionary…” Michael Sorkin, author, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan and Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at the City College of New York.
Roberta Brandes Gratz is an award-winning journalist and urban critic, lecturer and author of , The Battle For Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way, and Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown. She is an international lecturer on urban development issues and former reporter for the New York Post.
Gratz was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in February 2003. In 2010, she resigned from LPC and was appointed to the Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board.
In 2003, Gratz, in collaboration with Jane Jacobs and a small group of like-minded urbanists, founded the Center For the Living City to build on Jacobs’ work.
She currently writes on line for Citiwire, the Huffington Post and Planetizen. Her articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine,The Nation, Tikkun, Planning Magazine, New York Newsday, the Daily News, Planning Commissioners Journal and others. Her writing had been translated into Japanese, Russian, Czech, German and Polish. She travels frequently all over the U.S., Central Europe and Great Britain to lecture and consult on urban revitalization issues.
Recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, Surdna Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Fannie Mae Foundation, and writing awards from the American Institute of Architects, American Planning Association, Municipal Art Society, the New York Press Club, the City Club of New York and others.
Gratz is currently a Trustee of the New York State Preservation League and has served as Vice-President of the Salzburg Conference on Urban Planning and Development. She is the founder and President Emeritus of the Eldridge Street Project, the much-celebrated restoration of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side; a founder and current board member of the Writers Room, the first urban writers’ colony in the country; and formerly a Trustee of the Village of Ocean Beach.
Gratz was a member of the New York Governor’s and Mayor’s Task Force on Planning Manhattan’s West Side Highway and Waterfront, she formerly served as head of Public Policy of the New York State Preservation League, and she founded the Fire Island Historical Society. She is a native and resident of New York City.
Gratz calls for a more flexible approach to urban rejuvenation: urban husbandry – the notion of shaping a city’s growth and revitalization incrementally, piece by piece, slowly, organically, and with individual components. Rather than rebuilding and replacing downtown areas with large-scale development, such as convention centers, stadiums, and other blockbuster projects, urban husbandry recognizes the inherent value in the existing built environment and promotes the care, management, and preservation of urban neighborhoods. By illustrating the advantages of low-cost, modest initiatives, Gratz demonstrates that rebuilding authentic places, reconnecting communities and stimulating innovative change are within everyone’s reach.
“A distinction must be made between downtowns rebuilt and downtowns reborn.”
“The big money continues to pour … into the big, the overwhelming and the inappropriate.”
The Battle For Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, Nation Books, 2010.
Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
The Living City: How America’s Cities Are Being Revitalized by Thinking Small in a Big Way, John Wiley & Sons, 1994.
Recent articles on website: www.RobertaBrandesGratz.com.
“Downtowns Grow One Step at a Time,” Planning Commissioners Journal, #49, Winter 2003.
“We Don’t Have Enough Parking?,” Planning Commissioners Journal, #48, Fall 2002.
“Renewing Urban Renewal,” The Nation, June 3, 2002
“Learning from Soho,” Planning, 3/1/2002.
“A Window Into the Heart of America: Elegant Christmas displays are fading in most downtowns,” Common Dreams, December 21, 2001.
“After Calamity, New Yorkers Sought Traditional, Intimate Public Places: One lesson from terror attack: people avoided modern, out of scale development,”Michigan Land Use Institute, October 24, 2001.
“To Market, To Market,” Planning Commissioners Journal, #42, Spring 2001.
“Preserving the Urban Dynamic,” The Nation, April 23, 2001.
“A Frog, A Wooden House, A Stream and A Trail: Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe,” Rockefeller Brothers Fund, March 2001.