More on Jane Jacobs' ideasContinuing our series from yesterday, today I have a set of "best of" excerpts from several articles written about her in the last week.
But before we get to them, something I meant to mention yesterday: if you didn't see it on the front of the Sunday Chronicle op-ed section, be sure to read David and Christof's excellent piece on the logic of connecting up Houston's core job centers with light rail, and what that logic means for the Universities line routing. The bottom line: in addition to serving dense apartment dwellers in the core, it enables far more suburban commuters to use HOV express bus, vanpool, or carpool to get to their specific work center, but then they can also use the light rail to get around the core during the day for errands, lunch, and meetings. Being car-less at work doesn't mean being stuck.
Back to our Jacobs excerpts. Let's start with the NY Times:
In her book "Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities. At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.More on those four points in posts later this week. A critique paragraph from another NY Times article:
And in at least five distinct fields of inquiry, she thought deeply and innovatively: urban design, urban history, regional economics, the morality of the economy and the nature of economic growth.
Her major books followed a logical progression, each leading naturally to the next. From writing about how people functioned within cities, she analyzed how cities function within nations, how nations function with one another, how everyone functions in a world of conflicting moral principles, and, finally, how economies grow like biological organisms.
"Death and Life" made four recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals. 4. Population must be dense.
These seemingly simple notions represented a major rethinking of modern planning. They were coupled with fierce condemnations of the writings of the planners Sir Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, as well as those of the architect Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, who championed their ideal of graceful towers rising over exquisite open spaces.
"Though I remain a fan, I would say that her vision of the good city was based too much on an idealized Greenwich Village," Professor Krieger wrote. "That particular lifestyle and neighborhood form does not encompass an urbanizing world of remarkable contrasts and contrasting challenges."I have to agree with this one. Not everyone wants to live in Greenwich Village, aka New Urbanism, but neighborhoods built on that model should be available to those who desire that lifestyle, even in car-centric and pedestrian-hostile-weather Houston.
AP: Her impact transcended borders. Basing her findings on deep, eclectic reading and firsthand observation, Jacobs challenged assumptions she believed damaged modern cities that neighborhoods should be isolated from each other, that an empty street was safer than a crowded one, that the car represented progress over the pedestrian.One of my favorite thinkers, writers, bloggers, and McKinsey alumni, John Hagel:
Her priorities were for integrated, manageable communities, for diversity of people, transportation, architecture and commerce. She also believed that economies need to be self-sustaining and self-renewing, relying on local initiative instead of centralized bureaucracies.
Jacobs was an extraordinarily insightful writer who anticipated many of the themes that have become foundations for contemporary social analysis – complex adaptive systems, emergence, social capital and social networks, just to name a few.And, finally, the Toronto Star (where she lived the latter half of her life), an excerpt which ends with a couple of my favorite quotes:
Her first book explores the dynamics that shape city life and make it so rich, as well as providing a devastating critique of urban planners that seek to impose conceptions of order and, in the process, smother the very elements that make cities so vibrant.
The diversity of populations and activities and the concentration of people combine to generate enormous productive friction. That productive friction can be either amplified or dampened by how we develop our cities. Jacobs is a powerful proponent of spontaneous order in cities and deeply insightful about the interplay between urban design and social interaction.
Her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, became a bible for neighbourhood organizers and what she termed the “foot people”. It made the case against the utopian planning culture of the times — residential high-rise development, expressways through city hearts, slum clearances, and desolate downtowns. She believed that residential and commercial activity should be in the same place, that the safest neighbourhoods teem with life, short winding streets are better than long straight ones, low-rise housing is better than impersonal towers, that a neighbourhood is where people talk to one another. She liked the small-scale.And the city is one of the most complex social cause-and-effect webs ever woven, with all sorts of unpredictable reactions to the best-intentioned plans and programs. This series continues tomorrow with more depth on the four tenets of vibrant neighborhoods and how they might be applied to car-based cities.
Not everyone agreed. Her arch-critic, Lewis Mumford, called her vision “higgledy-piggledy unplanned casualness.”
Mrs. Jacobs was seen by many of her supporters — mistakenly — as left-wing. Not so. Her views embraced the marketplace, supported privatization of utilities, frowned on subsidies, and detested the intrusions of government, big or small.
Shortly after writing The Nature of Economies, she was quoted as saying: "I think I’m living in a marvelous age when great change is occurring. We now see that there is no straight-line cause and effect; things are connected by webs."