On Jane Jacobs

“This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” – Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities responded to Modernity, City Beautiful, and Garden City movements. Her quest was to interrupt the trend of city planning that was causing major developmental issues in cities and towns which she lived in, and across all of North America. The commonality of these trends was their “dream city” utopian epistemologies. The art of understanding cities, Jacobs argues, should be done in a trial-and-error fashion. Prior to this book, Jacob argues, planning methods were not trial-and-error but fueled by monotonous aesthetic deliverance and over-sought imaginative goals. This discussion will discern the issues spawned by the Garden City and Radiant City/Modern thinktanks in particular, as noted by Jacobs in her book.

The Garden City idea was to have agglomerations of utopian townships, surrounded by greenbelts, that replaced the countryside. The idea was to bring people closer to nature and keep them living in close proximity to their means of livelihood. What seemed like a great idea actually destroyed an important part of urbanity – the metropolitan, liberal, individual city life. A conversation of city life should be had when dealing with Garden City literature. Jane Jacobs criticized Howard with this perspective. The means of survival are met with such pleasance in Howard’s model, but then what? This is where Jacob begins her argument – that garden cities leave not ample room for diverse ideas of an individual’s life path. Organic conventional cities that are not satellites, however, do allow for diverse ideas to spawn. That isn’t to say organicism is the only requirement. Howard also rejects the self-policing methods of culture and diversity offered by the central city. Overall, garden cities lack freedom, and ignore important aspects of individuality and diversity. What Jacob marks as important in this dialogue is that Garden City narratives were still underlying in the actions of planner’s during the time of her writing (60s), though not directly echoed. Even perhaps now this narrative still underlies planning theory.

Jacob views Modernity and the Radiant City as a toxic initiative that as well added to the destruction of place and individuality in cities. Again, city life should be discussed here. Le Corbusier, the modernist behind The Radiant City, had ideas that were not calculated with trial and error. Instead, his ideas were illusive and sought to solve humanistic challenges through the means of infrastructure and renewal. His methods involved destruction of the old, and an implementation of his ideas. To make the city a giant park, with skyscrapers and public housing. Jacob believes that Le Corbusier and his movement were detrimental to the organic, laissez-faire development of city life. This is because they lacked place, diversity, and uniqueness. Jacobs goes on to say, in her book, that modernity added to the current issue in North American cities - of social and cultural disparity.