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The Death and Life of Great American Cities-jane Jacobs

The Death and Life of Great American Cities-jane Jacobs

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Published by Muhamad Faliq

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Published by: Muhamad Faliq on May 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, is a greatly influential book on the subject of urban planning in the 20th century. First published in 1961, the book is a critique of modernist planning policies claimed by Jacobs to be destroyingmany existing inner-city communities.Reserving her most vitriolic criticism for the "rationalist" planners (specifically RobertMoses) of the 1950s and 1960s, Jacobs argued that modernist urban planning rejects thecity, because it rejects human beings living in a community characterized by layeredcomplexity and seeming chaos. The modernist planners used deductive reasoning to find principles by which to plan cities. Among these policies the most violent was urbanrenewal; the most prevalent was and is the separation of uses (i.e. residential, industrial,commercial).These policies, she claimed, destroy communities and innovative economies by creatingisolated, unnatural urban spaces. In their place Jacobs advocated a dense and mixed-useurban aesthetic that would preserve the uniqueness inherent in individualneighborhoods.[1] Her aesthetic can be considered opposite to that of the modernists,upholding redundancy and vibrancy, against order and efficiency. She frequently cites New York City's Greenwich Village as an example of a vibrant urban community. TheVillage, like many similar communities, may well have been preserved, at least in part, by her writing and activism.The book also played a major role in the urban development of Toronto, Ontario, Canada,where Jacobs was involved in the campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway.[2] Toronto,where Jacobs lived from 1968 until her death, is to this day regarded as one of the fewmajor metropolises in North America to have successfully maintained a large number of residential neighborhoods in its downtown core.[who?] This status is attributed in part toJacobs' writing and her local community activism.The book continues to be Jacobs' most influential, and is still widely read by both planning professionals and the general public. Urban theorist Lewis Mumford, whilefinding fault with her methodology, encouraged Jacobs' early writings[3] in the NewYork Review of Books. Robert Caro has cited Jacobs' book as the strongest influence onThe Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses.Jacobs' writings were an important influence on New Urbanism, an architecture and planning movement which emerged in the 1980s.
Jacobs' book is an attack on ³orthodox´ modern city planning and city architecturaldesign. Looking into how cities actually work, rather than how they should work according to urban designers and planners, Jacobs effectively describes the real factorsaffecting cities, and recommends strategies to enhance actual city performance.
Jacobs briefly explains influential ideas in orthodox planning, starting from Howard¶sGarden city, indeed a set of self-sufficient small towns, ideal for all but those with a planfor their own lives. Concurrently, City Beautiful was developed to sort out themonuments from the rest of the city, and assemble them in a unit. Later Le Corbusier devised the Radiant City, composed of skyscrapers within a park. Jacobs argues that allthese are irrelevant to how cities work, and therefore moves on to explain workings of cities in the first part of the book.She explores the three primary uses of sidewalks: safety, contact, and assimilatingchildren. Street safety is promoted by pavements clearly marking a public/privateseparation, and by spontaneous protection with the eyes of both pedestrians and thosewatching the continual flow of pedestrians from buildings. To make this eye protectioneffective at enhancing safety, there should be ³an unconscious assumption of generalstreet support´ when necessary, or an element of ³trust´. As the main contact venue, pavements contribute to building trust among neighbors over time. Moreover, self-appointed public characters such as storekeepers enhance the social structure of sidewalk life by learning the news at retail and spreading it. Jacobs argues that such trust cannot be built in artificial public places such as a game room in a housing project. Sidewalk contact and safety, together, thwart segregation and racial discrimination.A final function of sidewalks is to provide a non-matriarchy environment for children to play. This is not achieved in the presumably ³safe´ city parks - an assumption that Jacobsseriously challenges due to the lack of surveillance mechanisms in parks. Successful,functional parks are those under intense use by a diverse set of companies and residents.Such parks usually possess four common characteristics: intricacy, centering, sun, andenclosure. Intricacy is the variety of reasons people use parks, among them centering othe fact that parks have a place known as their centers. Sun, shaded in the summer,should be present in parks, as well as building to enclose parks.Jacobs then explores a city neighborhood, tricky to define for while it is an organ of self-governance, it is not self-contained. Three levels of city neighborhoods; city, districts,and streets, can be identified. Streets should be able to effectively ask for help whenenormous problems arise. Effective districts should therefore exist to represent streets tothe city. City is the source of most public money ± from federal or state coffers.
Given the importance of all kinds of diversity, intricately mingled in mutual support, parttwo of the book explains the conditions for city diversity or the economic workings that produce lively cities. First, districts must serve more than one primary function to ensure presence of people using the same common facilities at different times. Second, blocksshould be short, to increase path options between points of departure and destinations,and therefore enhance social and as a result economic development. Third, buildingsshould be at varying ages, accommodating different people and businesses which canafford different levels of rents. Fourth, there should be a dense concentration of people,including residents, to promote visible city life. It is important that all of these four conditions are necessary to generate diversity, and absence of each one would result inhomogeny and ultimately dullness.Jacobs refutes the myths about disadvantages of diversity presented in orthodox planning.First she argues that diversity does not innately diminish visual order. Conversely,homogeny or superficially diverse-looking homogeneous areas lack beauty. Moreover,diversity is not the root cause of traffic congestions, which is caused by vehicles and not people in themselves. Lively, diverse areas encourage walking. Diversity is not permissive to ruinous uses- if defined correctly- either. A category of uses contributingnothing to a district¶s general convenience, such as junk yards, grow in unsuccessfulspots. In fact, to make these areas successful and thereby dispose of such ruinous uses,diversity should be enhanced. A second category of conceived ruinous uses such as barsand theaters are a threat in grey areas, but not harmful in diverse city districts. The finalcategory includes parking lots, large or heavy truck depots, gas stations, gigantic outdoor advertising and enterprises harmful due to their wrong scale in certain streets. Jacobssuggests that exerting controls on the scale of street frontage permitted to a use wouldalleviate such a use.
Part three of the book is designated to analyzing four forces of decline and regenerationin city cycles: successful diversity as a self-destructive factor, deadening influence omassive single elements in cities, population instability as an obstacle to diversity growth,and effects of public and private money.Self destruction of outstanding successful districts occurs by ousting less affluentdwellers and businesses, to replace them with more affluent or profitable ones, probablyas the multiplication of those already existing in that district. This not only erodes thevariety of dwellers and businesses as the base for diversity in that specific district, butalso has a cross-effect on the diversity of other localities by depriving them from such profitable businesses and affluent residents needed for mutual support. Massive singlefacilities such as railroad tracks, enormous parks, and college campuses create vacuumsin areas immediately next to their borders because such areas (adjoining borders) are aterminus of generalized use. Jacobs suggests to figure out border-line cases, such asspecial park uses (chess or checker pavilions), in order to blend the border and theimmediate neighboring area together and yet keep the city as city and the massiveelement (such as the park) as itself.

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