Jane Jacobs and Sidewalks
Jane Jacobs, an urban writer and activist, claimed how to improve cities and why some failed in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Since the publishing of the book in 1961, her ideas have shaped how urban areas are planned and perceived (“Jane Jacobs.”). Her observations and theses are counter-intuitive to what is most commonly assumed about the success of cities. She uses statistics, personal experiences, and compares different cities to further her case.
At the start of Jacobs’s piece, she states that sidewalks are essential to and define a city (29). According to her theory, if a city doesn’t have sidewalks, it will never succeed. People need sidewalks for transportation, but they’re more than what meets the eye. They give personality to a street and can either cause more people to pass through, or avoid the area. She defines a successful city is one where any passer-by feels safe on the streets, even amidst all of the strangers (30). Jacobs discusses three factors that a sidewalk needs in order to be successful. First, there needs to be an obvious difference between public and private space. If someone is in an area that is unknown, whether it is public or private, they will be uncertain and appear suspicious. Strangers on public property is usual, but on private property, it could easily end badly. Second, in order to know who is a stranger and who is a neighbor, there must be constant eyes on the street. Seeing others and recognizing their place in the block is essential. Constant eyes on the street prevent crime because witnesses are all around. Any suspicious activity or persons will be watched and attract attention. The residents of a block protect their own territory, kin, and any passer-byers. The third factor of a successful street is the amount of walkers on the sidewalk. A constant trickling of pedestrians is needed to keep the streets alive. To implement this, the streets need to have shops on the block, or some sort of attraction, whether a bar or restaurant.Nightlife carries a negative connotation sometimes, but having a good atmosphere late into the night will also bring safety. A constant flow of traffic on the sidewalks allows more eyes to be on streets. People like to watch other people, and spaces that are busy tend to feel safer. The safer a street is, the more people will come. It’s an endless cycle.
Jane Jacobs also discusses misconceptions of successful cities. Poverty doesn’t cause a street to be dangerous, and wealth doesn’t automatically make a street safe. Jacobs mentions that some of the safest streets in New York City is where poor and minority groups live, yet other streets with similar dynamics are some of the safest (31). The amount of police in an area is not the best source of protection. Jacobs does not ignore the fact that police are important, but rather she states that people on the streets control the peace on the sidewalks better than the police can (32). It is practically impossible to have cops stationed on every street corner. Another misconception is that a high density of people within a city correlates with crime rates. Jones compares some crime statistics of Los Angeles to other cities. By density, it would fit in a suburban category, but its crime rates are far worse than any city. For example, it have four times the amount of forcible rapes than New York.With this, she shows that although Los Angeles has the lowest density compared to other cities, it has double, sometimes triple, the crime rate (32). There is no way to say why Los Angeles is least safe compared to other cities, but one can be sure that thinning the population out will not solve crime. There are three ways to deal with living with safety insecurity. First, it can be ignored, and the individual will allow it to continue. This approach is most common in low-income housing projects and many hiddle-income ones. If it