Eyes On the Street

Within The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, we find ourselves immersed in the knowledge and history of streets most of us can call home. Heroine and Joan of Arc of Greenwich Village, Jane Jacobs vividly describes the important factors that distinctly outline the neighborhoods throughout New York, down to the nitty, gritty sidewalk below our feet.

While Jacobs viewed New York City neighborhoods from a holistic view, taking on the policies and past events that governed the streets, Mitchell Duneier approached one neighborhood, in particular, Greenwich Village, in order to uncover a specific aspect of neighborhood life through a series of interviews. In his ethnography and documentary, Sidewalk, Duneier observed the African American men who filled the streets of Greenwich Village in the 1990s selling books and magazines. Duneier drew upon the idea of the sidewalk being “the site where a sense of mutual support must be felt among strangers” in order to live together and that it should be an area of limitations and intimacy between the inhabitants (Duneier, 55).

Having lived in Greenwich Village, Duneier was familiar with the vendors on his block and took particular interest in Hakim Hasan. Describing himself as a public character, Hakim introduced Duneier to the rest of the vendors of the neighborhood. Due to the dynamic shift of people within the neighborhood, a new population composed of poor or homeless black men made their living on these streets, probably something Jacobs did not encounter when she wrote her book. Duneier explores how such an affluent neighborhood could house individuals of such contrasting lives and incomes. Despite being viewed in a negative light and constantly harassed by the police force, the “illegal” vendors on these streets depended on their honest work to support themselves just as much as the upper and middle-class workers of this neighborhood. Similar to Jacobs’ description of the slums and urban renewal programs, when the government was made aware of these vendors, they attempted to solve the problem by evicting them or in this case, arresting them.

Part 1 of 8 Video Clips of Sidewalk

By observing the vendors in the truest form for roughly three years, Duneier took up employment as a general assistant vendor allowing him to be introduced to the majority of the neighborhood in which he recruited people for his interviews. Attempting to fit in within social constructs, these men created their own economy in order to improve their own lives. Likewise, they also provided a greater value to the streets of Greenwich Village fostering sidewalks in which neighbors could interact in forms described thoroughly and supported by Jacobs. Duneier’s desire to have these people’s voices heard emphasized the always changing dynamic with New York City neighborhoods, in which Jacob’s ideas certainly still apply to. We can witness her overall premise of the importance of the sidewalk exchanges in the streets of neighborhoods every day as we walk through them.

Fun Fact: Mitchell Duneier committed to sharing the profit he earned from Sidewalk with the twenty-one people who appear in it.


Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Modern Library, 2011.

Duneier, Mitchell. Sidewalk. New York :Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Print.

Chapter 5 from Sidewalk


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