I love Jane Jacobs
I love how Jane Jacobs thinks about building cities and neighbourhoods. Her approach has heavily influenced my thinking and approach–and those of many leading planners and leading thinkers on urban development.
This passage is an excellent example of her approach. It’s from an article in Fortune magazine in 1958 yet completely relevant today.
Planners and architects have a vital contribution to make, but the citizen has a more vital one. It is his city, after all; his job is not merely to sell plans made by others, it is to get into the thick of the planning job himself.
He does not have to be a planner or an architect, or arrogate their functions, to ask the right questions:
- How can new buildings or projects capitalize on the city’s unique qualities? Does the city have a waterfront that could be exploited? An unusual topography?
- How can the city tie in its old buildings with its new ones, so that each complements the other and reinforces the quality of continuity the city should have?
- Can the new projects be tied into downtown streets? The best available sites may be outside downtown–but how far outside of downtown? Does the choice of site anticipate normal growth, or is the site so far away that it will gain no support from downtown, and give it none?
- Does new building exploit the strong qualities of the street—or virtually obliterate the street?
- Will the new project mix all kinds of activities together, or does it mistakenly segregate them?
The citizen can be the ultimate expert on this; what is needed is an observant eye, curiosity about people, and a willingness to walk. He should walk not only the streets of his own city, but those of every city he visits.
When he has the chance, he should insist on an hour’s walk in the loveliest park, the finest public square in town, and where there is a handy bench he should sit and watch the people for a while. He will understand his own city the better–and, perhaps, steal a few ideas.
Let the citizens decide what end results they want, and they can adapt the rebuilding machinery to suit them. If new laws are needed, they can agitate to get them. …
What a wonderful challenge there is! Rarely before has the citizen had such a chance to reshape the city, and to make it the kind of city that he likes and that others will too. If this means leaving room for the incongruous, or the vulgar or the strange, that is part of the challenge, not the problem.
Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.
Did you notice the emphasis on walking to get to know a city? That’s exactly why over the first weekend of May there’ll be thousands of Jane’s Walks around the world.
Born in Berlin. Made in Kitchener.
This year I’m teaming up with shunpiker extraordinaire Warren Stauch to lead a walk through time to share the history of Kitchener’s Central Frederick neighbourhood.
About our walk
Once on the edge of town and now considered downtown, we’ll look at the people, places and stories that shaped Central Frederick to be the vibrant neighbourhood it is today.
It’s Saturday, May 3 at 9:30 a.m. We’ll start at what originally was the Frederick Street Plaza. The meeting place is inside near the old beer store location (by Valumart & the hardware store). We’ll start at 9:30 a.m. and walk for about 2 hours.
We’ll work our way towards downtown until we reach Suddaby Public School when we’ll start to make our way back to local institution Norris Bakery. While Frederick Street is the backbone of this neighbourhood, we’ll go as far east (by Kitchener directions!) as Brubacher Street and as far west as what is now known as Mansion Street.
Please join us!
East downtown Kitchener
This Jane’s Walk is the second I’ve lead.
When I lived near King and Ottawa, I lead a Jane’s Walk along King Street East to highlight the gems and opportunities in east downtown Kitchener. Much of what I discussed during that walk is still relevant.