Jane Jacobs talks about how she approached her writing.
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).
Earlier this month, I was honoured to be asked to be the first interviewee for ‘Urbanism Speakeasy” a great new urbanism podcast by Andy Boenau, an urbanist and transportation engineer from Richmond Virgina.
The audio podcast can be found on Chirb.it.
Here is an overview of what we talked about:
The influence of an unqualified urban planner
The Yurbanism brand is about 3 years old. In short, it is Yuri’s views on urbanism. What’s particularly interesting about Yuri’s views is that they are not bound to traditional schools of thought. His background is in public policy and administration, not urban planning or city planning.
Yuri’s strong online influence is probably rooted in his curation of articles and stories he picks up from around the globe. He has over 5,000 Twitter followers, and estimates he’s personally met 20% of those people at tweetups and conferences.
Turning community ideas into action
What inspiration or optimism can be shared with people who want to improve their hometown but don’t have any idea where to begin? Yuri talks about answering the question of who was responsible for urban decay, and who was now doing work to revitalize Phoenix? He also talks about encouraging people to get involved in the planning and development of projects early on – before bulldozers start moving dirt or demolishing buildings.
One way to get people more familiar with their community’s character and physical traits is organizing walking tours. To get to know a city, you have to get out and walk it. Yuri describes the Jane’s Walk initiative, how it was introduced in Phoenix, and the momentum that followed. Rather than simply having participants follow around an “expert” tour guide, Yuri describes the events as walking conversations. Politicians and professional planners have an opportunity to hear firsthand what the community observes and what they’d like to see change in their community. See things you might not normally see and hear stories you might not otherwise hear.
The Jane Jacobs factor
Jane Jacobs famously said design is people. Yuri agrees, and adds his own spin: design is dialogue. He talks about ways to defuse tensions from opposing parties. The first step can be as simple as inviting people over for a coffee or beer. Writing boisterous or nasty letters and emails grabs headlines, but sitting down and listening to all points of view can help build relationships that might otherwise not have existed. (Editor’s note: the Urbanism Speakeasy vouches for the neighborly empowerment of hops and barley.)
The one constant about urban planning is that nothing stays the same. Even when the physical structure and character of a neighborhood stays in place, the dynamics still change. People age, children move out of the house, new people move in, etc. This is both an exciting part of community evolution as well as a significant challenge for planners.
Social media in community planning
With the explosion of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, the public involvement process is far different from just a decade ago. Yuri describes traditional, face-to-face engagement strategies and modern, high-tech strategies as part of the same continuum. Not only can both forms of engagement coexist—they need to coexist. He observes that the average age of people in a formal public hearing is about 60. Young people are often not interested in an evening meeting about a road project, for example. And parents with school-aged children often can’t get away from home for a 7 PM public meeting. Social media allows for information sharing without every person filling a physical meeting hall.
One of Yuri’s current ventures is PlaceSpeak, an online consultation platform. He talks about what makes it unique in today’s crowded technology world and why you should be interested in it. Find out how anonymity can breed contempt and how PlaceSpeak fosters productive dialogue among neighbors. Yuri talks in-depth about ways to convert a public process into an online process.
Translating technical jargon to regular people
Describing the technical process of a public works project is always challenging. Basic concepts are often lost amidst jargon like road deficiencies, design speeds, floor space ratios, density, and more. Yuri acknowledges that different people learn in different ways, and he describes how the average person can become better informed about public projects.
Connect with our guest
If you want to connect with Yuri or just watch him from a distance, check out his Yurbanism blog, his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. As far as we can tell, there is only one Yuri Artibise out there. So you can also track him down by just searching online for his name.
On Sunday, May 6, 2012 100′s of neighbours, planners and city thinkers explored their neighbourhoods as part of the annual Jane’s Walk Vancouver, which I co-ordinated. Jane’s Walk are yearly, community-led walking tours that take place in neighbourhoods across the worlds in honour of the late urbanist Jane Jacobs.
Among the nearly 30 walks that took place, there were three special walks that were co-hosted by the City of Vancouver, Museum of Vancouver (MOV), and Spacing Magazine in the three neighbourhoods where community plan updates are taking place: Marpole, the West End and Grandview-Woodland.
On June 19, 2012, the MOV is hosting a gathering to share insights, learnings, and stories from those walks. This free public dialogue is an opportunity for participants, tour leaders, and neighborhood planners to reconvene and share their insights, learnings, and thoughts from their respective neighborhood walks. But you can attend the event, even if you didn’t take part in the walks. Indeed, it will be a great way to catch up on what you missed and a great chance to learn how you can help shape your community’s future!
The evening will kick off with “Jane’s Game”, featuring prizes, hilarity, and a chance to meet people from different neighbourhoods across the city. The local resident and urban designer walk leaders from each neighbourhood—Marpole, Grandview-Woodlands, and the West End— will recap highlights from their walks, and share brief features that make that neighbourhood unique. City planners will be on hand to answer questions about the specific Community Plans and give more details about the ongoing process.
I hope to see you there!
6:00PM – Welcome/Interactive Warmup “Jane’s Game”
6:30PM – Introductions, Neighborhood Recaps
7:30PM – Discussion
8:15PM – Wrapup & Mingling*
*cash bar and reception to follow
A short television segment from 1969, shortly after Jacobs moved to Canada.
From CBC TV’s “The Way It Is” program, circa 1969, urbanist and author Jane Jacobs compares late 1960s Toronto and Montreal on how they have been planned and built, while condemning major highways planned for GTO.
This week’s round-up of articles for urbanists:
- Thinking of not voting? Think again: Casting your ballot for mayor, city council and trustees has a real effect on your daily life (Surrey Now)
- Megapolitan America: Although they occupy only 17 percent of the contiguous 48 states’ land base, America’s megapolitan areas are more densely settled than Europe as a whole. (Design Observer Places Journal)
- Jane Jacobs and the book that inspired a revolution: If cities are the greenest form of human settlement that we could possibly aspire to, Jane Jacobs left us the owner’s manual for how to build them. (Grist)
- Why Food Policy is Urban Policy: Forward-looking urban policy must understand and incorporate food systems as a primary and foundational precondition to any and all growth. (CityLab)
- Three Smart Ideas for Improving Our Urban World: The next breakthrough in architecture may not come from the likes of Frank Gehry, whose designs. It’s more likely to come from a chemist. (This Big City)
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)
The Guardian’s Ned Beauman is re-reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities to mark the books fiftieth anniversary. While doing so, he comments that Jane Jacobs’s book captures not just the rich density of urban life, but the craft of fiction.
Here are a few passages from his article:
Rereading: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Jacobs, who died in 2006, never published any fiction herself, but she certainly had a novelist’s sensitivity to human relations. She argues in Death and Life, for instance, that one of the paradoxical advantages of urban existence is privacy. In contrast to the suburbs, a dense neighbourhood has lots of convenient places to stop and chat, so you can be on friendly terms with dozens of people who live or work near your home without ever feeling the slightest obligation to invite any of them inside for tea:
“Under this system, it is possible in a city-street neighbourhood to know all kinds of people without unwelcome entanglements, without boredom, necessity for excuses, explanations, fears of giving offence, embarrassments respecting impositions or commitments, and all such paraphernalia of obligations which can accompany less limited relationships.”
If these things had truly been lost to New York, we would never have got Seinfeld, but the point still stands. How many professional city planners have considered everyday life so carefully that they’ve remembered to take all the nanophysics of social awkwardness into account?
Plenty of the requirements Jacobs sets out for building a healthy and diverse urban community can be applied with real success to building a vivid and plausible fictional community. Death and Life, in other words, is a sort of accidental creative writing textbook – perhaps appropriately so, because Jacobs’s beloved West Village was itself full of writers. Early on, Jacobs says:
“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvellous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of pavement use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance.”
But the art form of the city is not really dance. The art form of the city, described so well in that passage, is the novel.
[Originally posted on Jane's Walk Phoenix.]
Jane Jacobs talks about her book “The Nature of Economies.” In it, she asserts that economies are governed by the same rules as nature itself. (Originally aired April 2000).
A great video produced by the Active Living Network (a project of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). It features an interview with the urban goddess herself. The clip explores the role of the built environment in physical activity and public health. It’s 9 minutes and 46 seconds VERY well spent).
I love her support for skateboarding as an important of youth physical activity. Lots of good aphorisms at the end as well.
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.