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Jane Jacobs: Celebrating the City Street

by Christopher Chantrill
April 27, 2006 at 11:42 am

JANE JACOBS was a writer celebrated both by liberals and conservatives. She died April 25 in Toronto, aged 89. In her celebrated Death and Life of Great American Cities she punctured the confident movement of urban renewal that was bulldozing entire urban neighborhoods to cure “urban blight.” Liberals liked her because she bashed the rich. Conservatives liked her because she championed the old and the traditional.

She also belonged to that extraordinary time around 1960 when a clutch of major non-fiction books were published to universal reception: “Death and Life of American Cities,” “Silent Spring,” “The Other America,” “The Feminine Mystique,” “Growing Up Absurd,” “The Affluent Society,” and “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

In the New York Times Douglas Martin speaks of her four recommendations for city environment:

"Death and Life" made four basic recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition and use. 4. Population must be dense.

In NRO conservative G. Tracy Mehan claims Jacobs for conservatives.

Flourishing city diversity, of the kind that is catalyzed by the combination of mixed primary uses, frequent streets, mixture of building ages and overheads, and dense concentration of users, does not carry with it the disadvantages of diversity conventionally assumed by planning pseudoscience.

Mehan claims Jacobs as a Burkean. But you could also categorize her as a rebellious libertarian.

"City air still makes free the runaways from company towns, from plantations, from factory-farms, from subsistence farms, from migrant picker routes, from mining villages, from one-class suburbs," wrote Jacobs.

We can hardly say that she succeeded in stopping the elite passion for remaking cities in its own highly educated and highly evolved image. “Urban Renewal” was replaced by “New Urbanism” and now “Smart Growth.” The theme is constant—bulldozing people around to suit the aesthetic preferences of the educated elite.

But there is a curious contradiction in Jacobs’ womanly celebration of the vibrant city. The single-purpose suburb, against which she rails, was created by women. They wanted to get away from the danger and the bustle of the city so they could raise their families in peace and quiet.

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


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What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


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[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Responsible Self

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Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


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Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


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[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


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Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
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Drang nach Osten

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Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


Government Expenditure

The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill