J is for Jacobsean Urbanism

Posted: January 28, 2011 in ABC's

Jacobsean Urbanism: Building on the Observations of Jane Jacobs

Jacobsean urbanism is named after Jane Jacobs, an urban writer and activist who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Its foundations were first laid out in an essay entitled “Downtown is for People” that ran in Fortune magazine in April 1958. This led to a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write what became her defining book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” This book is perhaps the most influential 20th century text about the inner workings and failings of cities and has inspired generations of urban planners and activists.

Jacobsean urbanism is more than simply a critique of the urban renewal policies of the second half of the 20th century. It reaches beyond her written work and extends to her grassroots efforts to preserve local neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs believed strongly that local residents understood best how their neighborhood works, and how to strengthen and improve them. As such, her legacy is rooted in the idea of creating strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership.

Jacobs had no professional training in the field of urban planning. She often contested the formal urbanism approach that depends on outside experts, noting that the prescribed government policies urban development are usually inconsistent with the real functioning of city neighborhoods. Instead, she promoted local expertise as being better suited to guiding community development, relying on her observations and common sense to illustrate why certain places work, and how to improve those that do not. In this way, Jacobsean urbanism is closely related to the DIY urbanism and Everyday urbanism and the antithesis of Big urbanism covered earlier in this series.

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!


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