Last Updated 21 Dec 2022

Law of Education and Experience in Urban Planning

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Jane Jacobs is one of the most influential characters to ever impact urban planning and urban studies. She began her career as a journalist and reporter after she had graduated college from Columbia University. She officially began her career in 1952. A few years later she became one of the most influential urban theorists and she heavily contributed to the field of urban studies with the publication of her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where she heavily critiques the errors of current urban planners and sets the standard for what planners consider a safe and efficiently planned city. She is also well known for numerous other articles and books she wrote during her life, and for her activism that heavily changed the way that urban planners think and organize city spaces.

Jane Jacobs was active in her career since 1952 and she published her last book, Dark Age Ahead, in 2004, just 2 years before she passed away. (Kanigel, 2017) Jane Jacobs is most notable for her takedown of Robert Moses and his endeavor to destroy neighborhoods throughout New York to create four-lane highways, a practice that was very common which Jane Jacobs continued to fight throughout her career (Wainwright, 2017). Jane Jacobs claimed that Moses’s real motive was to reward developers and raise property values, which Jacobs claims led to the depletion of communities in the area rather than the development of communities. Until the end of her lifetime Jane Jacobs continued to fight for communities and neighborhoods that were threatened by the influence of redevelopment projects, and led the way for how future planners would think.

The first book that Jane Jacobs had published was “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. The book was published in 1961, and goes into great detail about the nature of cities, from how land space is used to the importance of structures in the community such as safe parks, safe sidewalks, safe buildings, etc. Jane Jacobs also speaks on the forces which lead to decline and regeneration within a community or neighborhood. One of the many things which make the book so remarkable is that Jane Jacobs did not have any legitimate training or expertise in urban planning. In her book, she states that her book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding and that she wants to introduce new ideas that have never been taught before in school or any other setting, for city planning.

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Jane Jacobs also highlights important topics such as why some areas of the city are nicer and are improved more often, opposed to others which are more slum like and tend to stay that way. A large portion of her book contains criticism of the way cities were wasting money on half met measures which did not improve cities, but collectively contributed to their demise, she gave examples such as civic centers which attracted homeless individuals and commercial shopping centers which resembled cluster chain stores. She criticizes these developments because she claims they do very little for the community and do not meet any important community needs.

The beginning of The Death and Life of Great American Cities talks about the nature of cities, specifically the safety uses of sidewalks, the uses of neighborhood parks, and the uses of neighborhoods overall. She claims that in many cities all over the United States that there are sidewalks and streets that people feel safe utilizing, and streets and sidewalks people do not feel safe utilizing. She further claims that what helps keep sidewalks safe is addressing and preventing the other social problems within the community that may contribute to easy crime, and by keeping crime within the community down, there will be safer sidewalks and streets. Other important ideals she presents in the first part of her book include a clear distinction between what is private and public land spaces, the idea of there being “eyes on the street” meaning for people to watch out for one another, a sense of community.

Jane Jacobs also states that there needs to be many people using the sidewalks and streets, and for this to happen there must be something to draw them to buildings within the streets. Jane Jacobs concludes the first portion of the book with the necessities and uses of family parks, and how there is a large difference between the parks which are most utilized and the ones which are not, and the reasons as to why some of these parks lack consumption by the public. The next portion of The Death and Life of Great American Cities covers the conditions and the need for city diversity, such as small blocks, aged buildings, and the need for mixed-use development. She begins this section by discussing how smaller blocks are better than have longer blocks within neighborhoods, because it promotes social growth and community inclusiveness.

Jane Jacobs brings up the excellent point of how city spaces need aged buildings which are more run down and have a lower overhead cost to be utilized by businesses, because if newer buildings are all that exist, there is a lower incentive for local business markets to open, which hurts the community economically. Jane Jacobs concludes this portion of her book with the discussion of the need for diversity within city spaces. Jacobs argues that homogeneity and monotonous city spaces lack the esthetic which draws in people, and often means that there are structures within the city space which are inefficiently created and thus are not being utilized by the communities they exist in. She counters the argument that diverse city spaces often look messy and disorganized with the argument that by doing so, it draws in more people and thus promotes a more economic city.

In the final portions of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs discusses the forces of decline and regeneration, as well as different tactics she finds to be efficient and inefficient within city planning. Jane Jacobs begins the final section of the book by discussing how borders create vacuums within cities, in which land space is more limited and thus the use of the environment is more limited. She also states that it limits the social interactions of the community and by doing this disables the community from operating efficiently, since neighborhoods are supposed to watch out for one another. One of the other tactics Jane Jacobs discusses leads to the decline and regeneration of cities is the practice of slumming and unslumming.

In her discussion of unslumming Jane Jacobs mentions how it is a viscous cycle since the nature of the slum is to get out of it, so there are never enough individuals that stay long enough for the slum to unslum itself. She then goes into detail of examples within cities where slums have unslummed themselves, and how other cities are unable to do so because of economic disparities and the lack of opportunity to make money. Jane Jacobs was notable for many things, to this day her books and ideology of urban studies are still considered a standard to be achieved by other city planners within their communities. Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities heavily contributed to the way that cities are organized today, and is what saved many areas of New York and other bigger cities from total demolition to accommodate road spaces that were unneeded within their communities, which would’ve ultimately lead to the demise of these communities.

With the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs contributed to many different epistemological schools of thought, including sociology, urban studies, and economics. She is credited with being one of the first people to coin the term “social capital” about the networks of which contribute to a community’s most integral functions. Jane Jacobs considered these networks to be one of the most undervalued components that is often overlooked by city planners, in terms of being “the fine structure of society” as per Mises Institute claims. The sole purpose of her book was to criticize the polices of urban planning in the 1950s, which she claims was the cause of the decline in many city neighborhoods across the United States. The policies she specifically speaks against are the policies of rationalist planners such as Robert Moses, which she claimed rejected people from the community rather than build it.

Per her book Jane Jacobs found the policies of urban renewal the most violent and separation of uses from residential, to industrial, and commercial, to be the most prevalent. She further claimed that these policies destroy economies within communities by creating and developing misused urban spaces. The ideology of Jane Jacobs is still just as needed in today’s world as it was 70 years ago when she first began her career within urban activism, many of her policies and ideas are what has held communities stable and safe from unnecessary urban development decisions which would otherwise hurt smaller and larger communities alike. That is why Jane Jacobs was such a huge advocate of planners getting to know the communities they were making decisions within rather than allowing economic influence or the influence of specialization within one’s discipline to blind them from making adequate decisions which were beneficial to the community and its overall growth.

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