April 28, 2006

Death and Life

"There is a wistful myth that if only we had enough money to spend ... we could wipe out all our slums in ten years ... even solve the traffic problem.

"But look what we have built [so far]: low-income projects that become worse centres of delinquency, vandalism, and general social hopelessness than the slums they were supposed to replace; middle-income housing projects which are truly marvels of dullness and regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life; luxury housing projects that mitigate their inanity, or try to, with a vapid vulgarity ... expressways that eviscerate great cities. This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities. ...

"That such wonders may be accomplished, people ... are pushed about, expropriated, and uprooted much as if they were the subjects of a conquering power. Thousands upon thousands of small businesses are destroyed, and their proprietors ruined, with hardly a gesture at compensation. Whole communities are torn apart and sown to the winds, with a reaping of cynicism, resentment, and despair that must be heard and seen to be believed. ...

"Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. Of course planners ... are at a loss to make automobiles and cities compatible with one another. They do not know what to do with automobiles in cities because they do not know how to plan for workable and vital cities anyhow -- with or without automobiles.

"The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problem of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can't. ...

"[T]he more space that is provided for cars in cities, the greater becomes the need for use of cars, and hence for still more space for them. ... [G]reater accessibility by car is inexorably accompanied both by less convenience and efficiency of public transport, and by thinning-down and smearing-out of uses, and hence by more need for cars."

excerpted from
The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs
May 4 1916 to April 25 2006

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