A short reading from The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.
This copy published by Vintage Books, copyright 1961. Chapter 19, Visual Order: Its limitations and possibilities. Beginning with the 2nd paragraph (p. 372 in this copy).
A short reading from The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.
Here is this week’s selection of news and views for urbanists:
- It Takes a Village to Raise a City: Redevelopment in existing communities requires communication, co-operation and consultation to find common ground. ( Open File Calgary)
- How Cities Should Work: The director of “Urbanized” talks about the universal issues cities face and how Twitter is changing filmmaking. (Imprint – Salon)
- How Europe Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Skyscraper: Although, the growth pattern of tall buildings is a bit different, European cities aren’t short anymore! (Forbes)
- As America Ages, NIMBYism Could Increase: Surveys show older people are more likely to actively oppose new development (Atlantic Cities)
- Rereading: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs: Jane Jacobs’s book captures not just the rich density of urban life, but the craft of fiction. (The Guardian)
On April 21st, I had the honor of speaking at TEDxScottsdale.
I have included my speaking notes pertaining below. A video will also be available in the next few weeks.
TEDxScottsdale Speaking Notes
My Journey through the Urban Desert
Lost in the Urban Desert
I’m not an architect or an urban planner. Indeed I wasn’t even an urbanist until a few years ago—I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
Until moving to Phoenix, I thought that urbanism was the status quo. Sure I knew that suburbs existed—I even grew up in one—but there had always been a central core to escape to.
Lost in the Urban Desert – II
Upon arriving here, I didn’t have a car; I didn’t even have a driver’s license.
I spent my first months here doing a lot of walking, a lot of transit, and a lot of cycling.
In doing so I got a crash course in how cities worked, or rather didn’t work.
I also began to discover oases in this urban desert. Isolated and small to be sure, but it was a start.
- There were places like the Downtown Phoenix farmers market and local coffee shops;
- There were events like First Friday Art Walks and networking groups like Radiate Phoenix;
- There were advocacy organizations like Downtown Voices Coalition and Local First Arizona;
- There is an extensive network of over 200 neighborhood organizations in Phoenix alone.
Encouraged by these discoveries:
- I began attending meetings and events.
- I started volunteering my time and energy with a few groups.
- I started attending City Hall Hearings
Before I knew it, I was finding my way through the urban desert.
But something was still missing.
Finding My Way
About this time, social media was really taking off. Blogging had gained critical mass, Facebook was gaining steam and Twitter had just been launched.
I began poking around these sites and finding like minds both in Phoenix and around the world.
I started visited blogs to see how urbanists in other cities were using the power of social media to build community in their own neighborhoods.
Through Twitter and Facebook I learned of even more community events and groups in Phoenix.
Encouraged by these further discoveries, I decided it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself.
It was time to start creating the type of community I wanted to be part of.
My first step was my blog, which started as a way to curate and discuss what I was finding through my research as well as what I was observing online.
I also started writing for other online magazines and websites. This allowed me to meet even more people doing cool and interesting things around town.
As a result, I started getting asked to attend and organize with other events. I even was asked to speak at a few of them!
The urban oases were multiplying.
Soon, attending events and writing about what was going on wasn’t enough. Something was still missing.
I wanted to give back in a tangible way.
I wanted to create my own community in the urban desert.
Jane’s Walk I
As part of my research for my blog, I came across an event called Jane’s Walk.
The walks are held in memory of Jane Jacobs.
Jane was an activist and author who championed the interests and knowledge of local residents over a centralized approach to city building.
She passed away in 2006, but her legacy lives on.
I had long been a fan of her writing, and her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was one of the books I turned to when trying to find my way.
I also had the privilege of meeting Jane during a couple of her book tours before she passed away.
Jane’s Walk II
Jane’s Walks are a series of free walking tours held on the first weekend of May each year.
They celebrates the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs by getting people out exploring their neighbourhoods and meeting their neighbours.
Jane’s Walks are led by local residents—people like you and me—who want to celebrate their neighborhoods and talk about what matters to them in the places they live and work.
These neighborhood-walking tours started in Toronto in 2007 and quickly expanded to cities around the world; but it hadn’t reached Phoenix yet.
I decided that bringing a Jane’s Walk to Phoenix would be a perfect opportunity to not only honor one of my heroes, but also to begin creating a community in Phoenix.
Jane’s Walk III
Little did I know that I would get so much more out of it.
Through hosting Jane’s Walks in 2009 and 2010 and organizing several more this year, I’ve learned that people want and need opportunities to get to not only know the places they live and work, but also to meet and interact with their fellow residents.
Through the simple act of walking together, we begin to learn about each other’s lives and their connections the neighborhood.
It is through such conversations that shared understanding and a sense of belonging are nurtured and a sense of places is created.
Ultimately these conversations become the stories that are part of a strong and resourceful community.
Park(ing) Day I
Soon after the success of the first Jane’s Walk in 2009, I learned about another annual event—Park(ing) Day.
Park(ing) Day held in September each year.
Here, residents pay for a metered parking spot, but instead of parking our car on it, they create a park.
By temporarily transforming a parking spot into a PARK(ing) space we are attempting to expand our public space and improving the livability of our cities—at least until the meter runs out.
It’s a way to remind ourselves—and our fellow residents who walk by—how important it is to have some space to sit, relax and connect.
But most importantly, it is an opportunity to create community, engage the public and begin a dialogue.
Best yet it is practically free. For the cost of what many of us already have on our patio, we can create community.
Park(ing) Day II
But unlike with Jane’s Walk, I had a lot harder time making it happen.
Perhaps it was the rogue (although perfectly legal) element of it, but—unlike Jane’s Walk—I couldn’t convince any of my friends to help
I had all but given up until about two weeks from the event; I received a message from somebody in Phoenix asking if I was still interested in doing something.
I told her my story and my difficulties.
Her response was basically So What? Lets just do it, and even if it is just the two of us, it will be something to build on.
And it was!
Park(ing) Day III
While Park(ing) Day hasn’t had the public resonance of Jane’s Walk. It has been on of the most meaningful events I have been involved in here.
Perhaps it’s the roguish act of playing Frisbee on the side of a street, or sitting in a lounge chair where a SUV usually parks, but Park(ing) Day has created deeper friendships that I could have ever imagined.
I have met some of my closest and dearest friends though this event. And not only are they great friends, they are also amongst the most active in their neighborhood and in many cases have gone on to hold their own community events.
Together, we have helped create a passionate, active urban tribe in downtown Phoenix.
This puts the truth to the adage that “the harder the effort, the greater the reward.”
It also confirms that even a small handful of people can have a big impact—even if it isn’t that one you had originally envisioned.
Best yet it is practically free. For the cost of what many of us already have on your patio, you too can help create community.
After holding these two annual events, I knew I was on to something. However, two events a year wasn’t enough for me to build the type of community I was looking for. I needed something more regular.
Hence Places, Spaces and Faces.
Places, Spaces & Faces I
We rarely get this opportunity to get together with people who aren’t on our usual roster of friends and family.
It’s rare to share our time, much less our home-cooked food with a stranger we’ve just met
Yet, this is what happens at the Places, Spaces and Faces Community Dinner each month.
It started just over a year ago and has been held on the third Saturday of every month.
Sometimes there’s a speaker and a topic of discussion.
Other times it’s simply an opportunity to get together and share food and stories in a special place.
Places, Spaces & Faces II
PSF is not an exclusive club. It’s open to the public. There are no membership or admission fees, other than a potluck dish.
Rather, it’s a way to get together with our fellow residents and share some things with them: our time, our food, our stories, and most importantly, ourselves.
There is no ulterior motive to this gathering. They are NOT for business networking, nor fund-raising, nor meeting dates, although any or all of these things happen there on occasion. J
The purpose of it is purely to come together as a community.
To be with—and talk to—one another.
Places, Spaces & Faces III
I can’t take credit for creating this event—that goes to my friend and fellow urbanist, Taz Loomans.
But PSF is something that I’ve felt was special since the beginning. It highlights another aspect of creating community in the urban desert.
This simple premise of getting together with interesting people in interesting places has proven to be a powerful formula for all sorts of friendships, ideas, and connections.
There’s something meaningful about sitting down over a meal. It forms a unique bond between people.
Perhaps more importantly it forms these bonds in special places, tying us no only closer to each other, but the neighborhoods in which we live, furthering our sense of place.
What I’ve Learned
Through these events, and numerous others that I’ve created, assisted or simply attended in Phoenix, I’ve not only been able to find my way through this urban desert we call home.
In the process, I’ve learned a lot about urbanism, sustainability—and most importantly—community.
- I’ve learned that we are all responsible for the success of the places we live.
- I’ve learned that we can’t have a good city, sustainable neighborhoods, vibrant places to live, play and work if we don’t have a strong sense of community.
- But most importantly—in the spirit of TED—I’ve learned my ‘Idea Worth Spreading.’
Cities are People
That idea is “Cities ARE people.”
Community events like the ones I’ve mentioned help forge people together and instill in them the idea that WE are the city.
If we feel that we are separate from our city, we will continue to be ‘victims’ of all the things that aren’t working, instead of becoming a part of the solution.
We need to stop waiting for someone else start the initiatives that we want to see.
If we truly desire urban sustainability, we need to become “co-creators” of the type of cities we want to live in.
By retaking control of our communities and making our own changes—no matter how small—we can be the leading edge of a sustainable urbanism.
Soon, the few oases we have in this urban desert, will not only multiply, but also begin to weave with each other into a vibrant city.
Many of the things I’ve talked about are a mindset change, and cost nothing other than time.
The major investment is a shift in thinking from the prevailing YO-YO ethic (“you’re on your own”) to a WITT mindset (“we’re in this together”).
Once we consider ourselves a community, and stewards of not only one another’s well being, but also the well being of our city, anything is possible.
Alas, like all good things in life, they come to an end. I will be leaving Phoenix next week to return to Canada–Vancouver to be exact.
Since I’ve announced that I’d be leaving Phoenix, I’ve had several people tell me that there will be a big hole in the community without me.
While I an honored—and humbled‑ by this, I’m also a little bit frustrated. One of my main goals in Phoenix has been to empower others to act.
If TED is about Ideas it is also about Wishes. It is my TED wish, or more accurately my TEDx wish that each one of you take a small step to build your community.
Remember, it doesn’t need to take much money, or even time to create community, even in the urban desert.
It can be as small as simply getting to know the person sitting beside you tonight, attending a neighborhood meeting, or participating in this year’s Jane’s Walk, Park(ing) Day or the next Place’s Spaces and Faces.
Many of you will find that this first step will encourage participation in others and, perhaps even starting your own.
If you all take this small step, soon any hole that may be felt by my departure will turn in to a mountain of community.
This will make Phoenix a better place and my time here will have been worth it.
If the city is the essence of society, the street is the essence of a city. —What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs
The life of any great city occurs on the street. Streets are the most public of domains. They are where we engage in activities. They are the ultimate connective tissue, weaving the city together and integrating its physical and social infrastructure. They are the basic frameworks for urban design and the bond of communities. Streets contain businesses where we get the goods and services we need and want.
Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, said cities need “a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other mutual support, both economically and socially.” On great commercial and mixed-use blocks, this happens naturally. Such streets—when woven through neighborhoods and districts—provide a framework for social interaction and economic growth. They also represent the character, history and culture of the community.
Streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs. Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull. —Jane Jacobs
However most of our streets are not like this. While they were once a place where we stopped to talk with our neighbors and watched our children played, they are now dominated by the automobile. Even where sidewalks are present, they are often inhospitable places. Most streets are still designed to separate people from cars and too few are walkable, lively or sociable.
This needs to change if we want to revitalize our neighborhoods and cities. What happens on streets affects what happens on sidewalks. And what happens on our sidewalks affect what happens in our homes and businesses. Streets need to be designed as places in themselves, prioritizing the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, disabled people, seniors and parents with children above the motorist. City governments need to make sure that traffic engineers and urban planners work with each other to design streets that work for the people who use them.
The mood of a city could depend on something as simple as street width. —David Yoon
What streets do you most enjoy spending time on? Why?
Jacobsean urbanism is named after Jane Jacobs, an urban writer and activist who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Its foundations were first laid out in an essay entitled “Downtown is for People” that ran in Fortune magazine in April 1958. This led to a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write what became her defining book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” This book is perhaps the most influential 20th century text about the inner workings and failings of cities and has inspired generations of urban planners and activists.
Jacobsean urbanism is more than simply a critique of the urban renewal policies of the second half of the 20th century. It reaches beyond her written work and extends to her grassroots efforts to preserve local neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs believed strongly that local residents understood best how their neighborhood works, and how to strengthen and improve them. As such, her legacy is rooted in the idea of creating strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership.
Jacobs had no professional training in the field of urban planning. She often contested the formal urbanism approach that depends on outside experts, noting that the prescribed government policies urban development are usually inconsistent with the real functioning of city neighborhoods. Instead, she promoted local expertise as being better suited to guiding community development, relying on her observations and common sense to illustrate why certain places work, and how to improve those that do not. In this way, Jacobsean urbanism is closely related to the DIY urbanism and Everyday urbanism and the antithesis of Big urbanism covered earlier in this series.
For more on Jacobean urbanism, check out “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs.” The book present contemporary observations rooted in the ideas of Jacobs from some the world’s leading practitioners in the fields of urbanism, local economies and urban ecology.
Over the weekend, I came across an interesting article about a recent panel convened at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City to discuss a new book by Brown University professor Samuel (“Sandy”) Zipp entitled Manhattan Projects: the Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York. Among many other things, the panel engaged in an interesting discussion on the respective legacies of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.
Here’s a passage from the article:
For the last few decades, it has been taken as a given by urban planners that “urban renewal,” the approach to planning in the 1950s and early 60s that resulted in bulldozed neighborhoods, modern public housing projects, and lots of urban highways, was a bad way to go about building a city. It’s axiomatic that a better way to go about it is to make the streets better for people and worse for cars, and encourage “mixed-use” development, among other things.
In New York specifically, Robert Moses, the post-war king of roads and “slum-clearance” made infamous by Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, has come to stand for urban renewal, and Jane Jacobs, who idealized and sought to preserve the West Village, and whose Death and Life of Great American Cities is still considered a prerequisite read for students in the field, represents the reaction.
That’s the history. But the cultural and intellectual legacy of urban renewal today is something a lot more complex.
The article ends with this quote:
“We used to say we plan at the scale of Robert Moses, but we judge ourselves by the standard of Jane Jacobs,” [New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda] Burden said in her introduction. “That’s not really true anymore. We judge ourselves now by Jan Gehl’s standard.”
PARK(ing) Day is returning to downtown Phoenix on Friday, September 17th. Building on the success of last years efforts, I have gathered several community members, neighborhood leaders and urbanites who are ready to step up to the curb, put a quarter in the meter, and transform curbside metered parking spots into temporary public parks.
When they do, they will join artists and activists all over the globe for PARK(ing) Day 2010. This annual, one-day event promotes green and public spaces in the urban core. It helps people rethink the way we use our streets and creates diverse conversations about how we can make sustainable cities. This concept of PARK(ing) Day is that putting money into a parking meter is like renting a public space.
History of PARK(ing) Day
Since its founding in San Francisco in 2005, PARK(ing) Day has blossomed into a worldwide grassroots movement: PARK(ing) Day events have included more than 500 “PARK” installations in more than 100 cities on four continents, including PARK installations in South Africa, Poland, Norway, New Zealand and South Korea.
“Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making the urban landscape,” says John Bela of Rebar, the San Francisco design agency that founded the effort.
PARK(ing) Day demonstrates that even temporary or interim spatial reprogramming can improve the character of the city.
Over PARK(ing) Day’s history, participants have broadened the scope of PARK installations to fulfill a range of unmet social needs. “From public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens, PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socializing and play,” says Rebar‘s Blaine Merker.
While PARK(ing) Day may be temporary, the image of possibility it offers has lasting effects and is shifting the way streets are perceived and utilized.
PARK(ing) Day Phoenix is an opportunity to create community, engage the public and begin a dialogue on topics ranging from city parks and public space to the environment to mobility options and community improvement projects. Well-known urban activist and author Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities that, to create a safe, prosperous and worth living in, one must start with “lively and interesting streets.”
Calling all Urbanites!
All Phoenicians are invited to get creative and join the effort—for an hour or two, or all day if you’d like. All you need to do is come up with ideas for a ‘temporary park,’ gather items to fit that theme, invite your friends to take part, and show up ready to be part of the movement.
To help kick-start your efforts, theme ideas include a mini-dog park, a yoga space, a place to hang while you eat breakfast or chat with friends over coffee. Be sure to bring enough change to plug the meters!
Last year, we set up along First Street south of Fillmore, handed out breakfast goodies, blew bubbles, drank coffee, hung out in comfy chairs, adorned their spaces with plants, university memorabilia and other comforts of a park. We made new friends and transformed the urban experience, if even for just a few hours.
This year I will be part of a team who will be setting up on Adams Street, between Central and 1st Ave (next to Light Rail and next to Baja Fresh, Coney Island and Thai Elephant) (map). If you are living in Phoenix, I hope you can stop by and support us. Or, better yet, get your friends, business or organization together and create your own PARK(ing) space!
So far, we have several groups other groups interested in participating. The University of Arizona College of Medicine, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership Ambassadors and an Arizona State University “Art Action” team will be setting up their own spots in downtown Phoenix. On Adams St, we will be joined by the CO+HOOTS co-working crew; a ‘political park’; and several other people who will be hanging out with us.
We’ll be doing it first thing in the morning (7-10am), to avoid the mid-day heat, so feel free to stop by on he way to work!
Find Out More
The press release is HERE.
For more details on PARK(ing) Day in general, visit www.ParkingDay.org.
Also feel free to contact me directly.
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- Park(ing) Day and Climate Branding (worldchanging.com)
On Tuesday, I posted a review of the book What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs. As I mentioned in the review, one of the books editors was Stephen Goldsmith. At the time of the book’s publication, Stephen wrote a post for Gothamist on the life and legacy of Jane Jacobs. Here is what he had to say:
Here in New York, Jane Jacobs is best remembered for killing the Lower Manhattan Expressway project, and writing “The Death and Life of Great American Cities“. Why is her work still important today? Jacobs’ work is important today because her common sense approach to city building can empower others to be the experts of their places. She was ahead of her time in many ways, and particularly her understanding of the interconnected nature of our social, environmental and economic systems. Jacobs changed the way we think about cities and understood that cities are complex eco-systems that, when functioning well are resilient, cauldrons of innovation.
People who learn about her observations of the ballet of the street for instance never see our sideswalks the same again. The city becomes a stage, a place where our human interactions–both direct and indirect–animate our lives and our places. Another great example of Jacobs’ importance is the way policy makers and law enforcement personnel understand the importance of what she described as “eyes on the street.” After the failed bomb attempt in Times Square earlier this month a number of articles cited Jacobs’ wisdom, and how a couple of street vendors saved the day. Her importance is more important now than ever before because she empowers citizens to trust their instincts.
In “Death and Life”, she argued that lively mixed-used neighborhoods are the key to successful cities. If she was still alive today, what do you think she would think of the state of our city? One thing that those of us who had the privilege of time with Jacobs knew was to never second guess what she might think about anything. She was full of surprises, unexpected insight and never dogmatic. One thing I can share is that during her last visit to NYC in 2004 she remarked how vibrant she found the city to be. She came to deliver the first annual Lewis Mumford lecture at City College and filled the hall–standing room only.
Jane Jacobs’ urbanist philosophy seems to have largely been embraced by the current generation of city planners. Where do you think her ideas have had the greatest physical impact here in New York?One way to observe how her ideas are having the greatest impact, and there are many examples to be sure, are in projects such as Majora Carter’s efforts with Sustainable South Bronx , and Alexie Torres-Flemming’s work with Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. One might even make the case that the High Line project is an outgrowth of her sensibilities.
Consider the reclamation of these abandoned, neglected places and the new life they have, the way these places have learned to become something new. Jacobs ideas have catalyzed ways of thinking about preservation, about integrated uses that even manifest themselves in such things as local manufacturers capturing downstream waste for new materials, such as Ice Stone in Brooklyn. The integrated way she viewed cities, economies, ecologies and people encourages creative responses to complex problems.
Here is the link to the original post
A short video (2:23) of author and New Yorker writer David Owen on how Jane Jacobs‘ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities influenced his writing of Green Metropolis. (Via: Jane’s Walk USA)
From: Jane’s Walk Phoenix.
5 FACTS ABOUT THE MOST IMPORTANT WOMAN YOU DON’T KNOW
Legendary urbanist, thinker, writer, and activist Jane Jacobs
“Jacobs was a woman of infinite humility, compassion, warmth and generosity of spirit. She reveled in challenging conversation with thoughtful people, listened carefully to citizen testimony at public hearings, never resisted the opportunity to stand up to power and wished only for people to continue the dialogue she started, not duplicate her words… Jacobs’s thought and writing comprise a resounding symphony of lessons and ideas; they compose a life’s work about economic, social and environmental justice.”
- Jane Jacobs, with no college degree, and never formally educated or professionally trained in urban planning, came to be the most famous urban planning critic and commentator of the 20th century.
- At a time when women were not involved in urban planning or government, as a young upstart journalist, Jacobs faced down legendary titan Robert Moses and successfully blocked his plans to destroy entire sections of Manhattan with massive highways.
- Her 1961 seminal work Death and Life of Great American Cities proposed radically new principles for rebuilding cities. At a time when common wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Jacobs’s prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism. Her book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to influence the spirit of the times.
- Critics used adjectives like “triumphant” and “seminal” to describe Death and Life of Great American Cities. Wolf Von Eckardt, writing in The Washington Post, observed that it has “proved more important than all the statistical studies of all our myriad urban centers.”
- Jacobs was a community organization pioneer: she organized massive grass-roots efforts to block urban-renewal projects that would have destroyed local neighborhoods. She inspired countless individuals and established the importance of citizen participation in community design.
In 1968, Jacobs was arrested on charges of second-degree riot and criminal mischief for disrupting a public meeting about the construction of a 10-lane elevated expressway, which would have sliced across Lower Manhattan and displaced thousands of families and businesses. The charges were dropped, and the expressway never got built.
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Through his Yurbanism brand, Yuri Artibise explores the ‘Y’ of urbanism by sharing ways to make our cities more livable, community-oriented places one block at a time.