NYC: A Means Of Distraction

Unlike Robert Moses and his followers who had multiple projects and saw the city only as an ‘end’, Jane Jacobs saw the city as a ‘means’ and all of the city’s assets holistically for its citizens. In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs analyzes the faults of Moses’ planning and how it affected its citizens thereafter. A major factor of city life, Jacob explains, is the way people view it from the outside and also from within. The city brings forth a false sense of “togetherness” which can only be defied as unified behavior towards certain situations. In a suburban life as Jacobs mentions, people know each other and interact while in the city the “togetherness” reaches as far as the sidewalk for contact, reaching the bus stop, the laundromat, barbershops and corner stores.

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Public Characters

Upon reading Jane Jacobs’ book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, I was struck by the idea of self-appointed public characters and their importance in enhancing the “social structure of sidewalk life” (68). As Jacobs describes, public characters are usually storekeepers that are in frequent contact with various people and serve the purpose of circulating news about the neighborhood. If not storekeepers, then all other public characters depend on these small local businesses to gather news about the neighborhood. They do not need to have any specialties, they just need to be, as Jacobs puts it, present and public.

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Diversity: we preach it, but It SHOUTS back!

This weekend, I travelled to San Diego for the Sunset Cliffs Debate Tournament.  As I explored San Diego, I noticed two things: nice, clean neighborhoods surrounded by breathtaking nature, and a lack of people on the streets.  In fact, while my team and I were walking around downtown San Diego, I remarked “Are you sure this is downtown??  I barely see any people here.”  It then hit me that upon hearing the word “downtown” our minds always jump to a populated area filled with noise and culture, but if you look at Brooklyn’s downtown, it’s the exact opposite. I think the key missing presence in San Diego, which I see a lot of in New York, was diversity.  On the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University, I noticed that almost 97% of the student population was of white color.  While the diversity that lacks in San Diego is omnipresent in New York, New York still isn’t the best city it could be.  So, what exactly is lacking?   Continue reading “Diversity: we preach it, but It SHOUTS back!”

“Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset

   While Robert Moses was the mogul that valued the “big picture” over the needs of the people living in the streets he was destroying, Jane Jacobs approached city planning in a manner that placed larger emphasis on “city” over “planning.” In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs asserts that city planning should not be executed in a standardized manner, as standardization creates lackluster isolated cities and limits the growth of productive ones. Unfortunately, there is a bias that rudimentary city planning has against the true essence of a city. Jacobs stresses that current city planning considerably idealizes the “private” and “friendly” ambience of suburbs. Cities cannot function if planners continue to believe in the existence of a quintessential suburban “togetherness”. What needs to be realized is that suburbs lack diversity; differences are not celebrated but are diminished in monotony and repetitiveness. In fact, cities achieve a sense of harmony much more effectively than suburbs. Successful cities provide diversity and encourage interactions amongst strangers while maintaining comfortable boundaries. The resulting balance leads to a sense of public identity that further nurtures a city’s foundations. Continue reading ““Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset”

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).

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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.

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Robert Moses Vs. Jane Jacobs: The David-Goliath Dynamic

Jane Jacobs, in her novel The Death and Life of Great American Cities, describes a monotonous ‘new’ New York City, stripped of its former vitality by pedantic urban planners, who are unable to consider the rich network that keeps these neighborhoods thriving. As a woman of the West Village herself, Jacobs is part of the world she describes, and in stark contrast to Robert Moses, she argues for a city for the pedestrian. Jacobs’ position opposed that of Moses’ so much so that I wondered how they would react should they find themselves on the same battlefield. It turns out they had been on the same turf, fighting on opposing sides. The PBS documentary Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses: Urban Fight of the Century illustrates the interactions of the two well—from the clash between their policies, to the David-Goliath dynamic to which the two are compared.

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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. Continue reading “The Development of Cities and The Needs of Residents”