Law in Contemporary Society

Improving American Cities; An Argument In Support Of Jane Jacobs' Ideas

-- By PierceHeard - 19 Feb 2024


American city design is flawed in a number of ways. These issues have large impacts on the lives of citizens within these communities, and the topic has been studied by scholars for years. Poor city design can lead to feelings of unfulfillment, lack of connection to one's community, and a destruction of interaction with fellow neighbors. Jane Jacobs' writings on the subject led to a shift in the way many people view urban planning. In "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," she offered a variety of reasons of what has led us to where we are today, but more importantly she offered practical solutions and steps we can take now to save our cities. Amongst her suggestions, the ones that I see as the most important are: encouraging mixed-use development, promoting pedestrian friendly streets, and fostering robust public spaces.

Encouraging Mixed Use Development

According to Jacobs, "Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order." Jacobs, J. (1961). "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (p.29). Random House. This belief is something that I have witnessed first hand. Growing up in Texas, I was all too familiar with rigid zoning and development restrictions. I lived in a huge suburb that forced me to drive at least fifteen minutes to do any activity. Upon moving to New York City, I couldn't quite put my finger on what made this city feel so much more alive. I believe a huge contributor to this feeling was the fact that just by walking out of my apartment I was only a few steps away from restaurants, small businesses, and parks. This would not have been possible where I grew up, this was possible because New York provides for mixed use zoning while my town back home did not. By providing for different uses in a city, the people of the community benefit from not having to be isolated in their homes; this leads to more interactions with neighbors and finding a sense of belonging within one's town.

Promoting Pedestrian Friendly Streets

Americas cities are too car dependent; this has been discussed and studied by many scholars. (see Scientific American, also Vox). Jacobs also acknowledges this car dependency and says that by designing streets for cars instead of for pedestrians, we actually make our cities less safe. "A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe" Jacobs, J. (1961). "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (p.33). Random House. When cars dominate the streets, less people walk or bike. This erodes the foundation of running into people that live in your community and degrades spontaneous interactions with your fellow neighbors. This multiplies the effect of feeling detached from your community. By ensuring that our cities have streets that are made for people, we will provide the necessary framework to increase safety and connections with one another.

Fostering Public Places

Jacobs and other scholars emphasized the need for Public spaces in our cities. "[Public spaces] serve to extend small living spaces and provid[e] areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community." (World Economic Forum). By fostering public places in our cities we provide an area where the neighborhood can come together and be in each other's presence for free. This is vital to a thriving city. These public spaces become an extension of the home and leads to the members of the community treating it with respect and care and providing a sense of teamwork and bonding that gives individuals a sense of pride. When the open spaces give the people of a town a sense of belonging, our towns become more than just homes and businesses, it becomes a collection of people living together in a thriving community. Human beings are social creatures, we have depended on communities for survival for centuries; by providing spaces for community building we are satisfying a deep rooted desire we all have.

These Design Flaws are Magnified in Communities of Lower Socioeconomic Status

Of course, these issues are much worse in poorer communities and communities of color. The infrastructure in these communities are even worse, with even less public spaces and less walkability. "[T]he positive outcomes associated with public spaces are not evenly distributed. A robust body of research demonstrates that within cities, people of color and low-income residents are more likely to live in neighborhoods with fewer public spaces or with public spaces that are small, poorly maintained, lack programming, or have limited play options." (Brookings). These communities make their members feel even more isolated and leads to the communities degrading over time. When we begin to rethink what our cities should look like, it is important we do not limit these ideas only to the affluent areas; we must apply these ideas holistically and ensure that these communities of lower socioeconomic status also receive the benefits of public spaces.


American cities face a lot of challenges as it stands. There are some steps we can take now to try to fix these issues. Implementing the ideas set forth by Jane Jacobs and other scholars, we can strive towards cities that benefit every member of our communities. By encouraging mixed use development, promoting pedestrian friendly streets, and fostering public spaces, we can begin to rebuild great cities. To implement these changes it's important we all get involved in our local communities to ensure our neighborhoods are being improved with the concerns of our neighbors at the forefront. Lastly, as we embark on this journey of saving our cities, it is important we do not forget about our communities that are less fortunate; healthy communities benefit everyone, and it is our duty to make sure these changes don't just apply to our more affluent neighborhoods.

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r6 - 08 May 2024 - 19:29:37 - PierceHeard
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