Rebuilding from “Inside-Out”

In Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs discusses the creation of public life and trust through the use of sidewalks and the common ignorance of “outsiders” or orthodox planners.  Jacobs’ uses Bostons North End as an epitome of a neighborhood that is self-functioning yet still considered a “slum” in the expert terms of bankers and developers.  Similarly, New York City’s Brownsville is commonly misconceived by outsiders and its image tarnished through untelling statistics.  In WNYC’s ongoing feature Brownsville: No Label Necessary, the members of the Brownsville community have commited to rebuilding Brownsville from “the inside out” using public life and trust created within a community to create what Jane Jacobs calls a, “self-governing” neighborhood.

The community members of Brownsville us their rich, ” street life” as a way to use their networks to bring about community and neighborhood infrastructure change on their terms rather than on the terms of outside developers who believe they know whats best for a struggling neighborhood.   “Street life” is an important factor for Jance Jacobs in the functioning of a neighborhood which is created through public characters that have socialized and created connections with the members of the community.  In this way, a neighborhood is connected without the outright establishment of a project that is deliberatly planned for socialization which usually has inverse effects of what is expected.  In the feature, Brownsville: No Label Necessary, Quardrean Lewis-Allen resonates with Jacobs’ ideas about the importance of community familiarity, public characters and the inverse effects of outside development.  Allen states that, “high concentration of public housing in [Brownsville] and the fact that many renters have landlords that reside outside of the neighborhood, doesn’t help people feel that they have a stake in their surroundings.”  In this case the projects of public housing and the absence of public characters, such as landlords, take away from the community rather than its intended benefit.

Jane Jacobs also often mentions Bostons, North End which narrative resonates closely to that of Brownsville’s.  During the Great Depression, North End was considered a slum and was neglected by private and public instiutions.  However, as seen in Jane Jacobs book, the North End has refurbished itself from, “inside out” as community members took it upon themselves to bring about the change they wanted infrastructurally in the neighborhood and therefore got recognition by the city.  In the same way, Brownsville commonly looked down upon by private and public institutions as a neighborhood not worth investing money into, has forced the community members to take matters into their own hands and bring about the change they want.  The community members now start businesses in the neighborhood, advocate for better jobs and safer streets all due to what they saw was a “disinvestment” by the city in their neighborhood.  As heard in the podcast, the city has started to invest into Brownsville but got its “riding momentum” started by the community members of Brownsville the same way North End got the city to look at them.


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