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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs has passed away at the age of 89. You might be interested in this interview. Here is a bit of the interview:
"Reason: A couple of years ago, Jesse Walker, an associate editor of REASON, wrote that your ideas are being seized by the sustainability crowd and are being abused. He wrote, 'To the extent that they have digested Jacobs, they have romanticized her vision, bastardizing her empirical observations of how cities work into a formula they want to impose not just on cities but on suburbs and small towns as well.'

Jacobs: I think there's a lot of truth to that. For example, the New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I've seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don't seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They've placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don't connect. In a real city or a real town, the lively heart always has two or more well-used pedestrian thoroughfares that meet. In traditional towns, often it's a triangular piece of land. Sometimes it's made into a park.

Reason: What kind of traditional towns?

Jacobs: You can see it in old Irish towns. You can also see it in towns in Illinois. The reason for it is that the action so often was where three well-traveled routes came together and made a Y. There are also T-intersections and also X-intersections. But they're always intersections that are well-traveled on foot. People speak about the local hangout, the corner bar. The important word there is corner.

Reason: Corner store, corner bar. They're illegal in most places today -- certainly in the suburbs.

Jacobs: Yes. The corner is important. It's of all different scales. For instance, big cities have a lot of main squares where the action is, and which will be the most valuable for stores and that kind of thing. They're often good places for a public building -- a landmark. But they're always where there's a crossing or a convergence. You can't stop a hub from developing in such a place. You can't make it develop if you don't have such a place. And I don't think the New Urbanists understand this kind of thing. They think you just put it where you want.

Reason: And that people will go there, as opposed to what's really happening -- that people are already going there? You're just giving them a place to stop and congregate?

Jacobs: That's right. It occurs naturally. Now it also has the advantage that it can expand or contract without destroying the rest of the place. Because the natural place for such a heart to expand is along those well-used thoroughfares."
"It occurs naturally." It emerges in other words. It reminds me of Hayek's spontaneous order.

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