The Development of Cities and The Needs of Residents

In Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the author discusses how cities form and criticizes the way in which cities evolve and change. In her work, Jacobs describes how cities, and especially certain neighborhoods within cities, are unable to provide for the needs of its people, which should be the primary focus of cities. She looks to the neighborhood of North End in Boston and Harlem in New York City as examples. Jacobs explains that in North End, in the 1940s, there were rundown apartment buildings filled with poor immigrants from Italy that overcrowded the streets. However, when she returned twenty years later, buildings were rehabilitated and were less crowded and the streets and alleys were repaired and painted. The worst slum in Boston had turned into a safe and habitable neighborhood. However, money from the government was not being put into the area. Instead of providing people with aid to further repair the neighborhood, North End was still considered a slum and plans were made to tear it down and rebuild over this. Thus, the city had not met the needs of its people as funds could have been directed towards improving the neighborhood rather than tearing it down, displacing many residents, and building over it.

In a similar example, Jacobs discusses how Harlem does not meet the needs of its people. She states that there is a large lawn in a certain area in Harlem that people often complain about. The lawn serves no purpose other than it being aesthetically pleasing, yet displaced many people and local stores from the area. In addition, another area in Harlem was separated into the old-city area and the projects. The older portion consisted of people walking down the street and interacting with one another and forming senses of trust between themselves. However, the project area residents remained anonymous to each other and did not interact. Jacobs states that this phenomenon of trust within a neighborhood is fundamental for a neighborhood’s progression as it allows residents to assist each other when in need and become active members of the community to resolve issues. She includes examples ranging from residents leaving their apartment keys at the local deli to children sitting on the front steps of buildings.

The topic of trust and interactions between neighbors lead me to an article published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation titled Where We Live Matters for Our Health: Neighborhoods and Health. In the article, the author states that the interactions between neighbors plays a major role in the development of children and the types of lives they live. In more closely-knit neighborhoods, children are exposed to more role models and opportunities than those in detached and anonymous neighborhoods. Children are more free to interact with adults other than their guardians in the area and are thus exposed to more people to look up to. In addition, group collaboration allows the exchange of information, such as job openings or local school events, and active neighborhood membership allows the neighborhood as a whole to work together to lower crime and make the neighborhood safer. Furthermore, trust between neighbors allows them to make changes in the neighborhood, including changes in legislation, that can better the lives of the youth living there.

Where We Live Matters for Our Health: Neighborhoods and Health

 -Rasman Rayyan

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