The Walk Zone

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs watched things closely from the time she was a young girl. It’s no wonder that she grew up to be an excellent journalist. Imagine how many new things she had to observe and explore when she moved to New York City!

In New York, she watched. And she saw that the city was made up of a number of parts like parks, libraries, schools, sidewalks, neighbourhoods, stores, and PEOPLE! It occurred to her that it was a complete ecosystem, and like our earth or our bodies, she realized that all the parts had to work together for a city to be healthy. Over the years, Jane talked and wrote about a lot of ideas that make cities better. Here are ten.

Jane’s 10 Big Ideas

1. Eyes on the Street – When there are more pedestrians in a city, the city is safer because people are watching.
2. Social Capital – Being outside on a regular daily route or pattern builds a network of relationships between neighbours and people along one’s path. This builds a foundation for mutual trust and ability to “bounce back” in times of trouble.
3. Makers of Diversity – City design contributes to diversity, safety, social connection, convenience, and economic vibrancy. There are four factors that impact this:
a. Mixed uses – including all kinds of homes, workplaces, and shops bring people out all day long.
b. Aged buildings – older buildings provide cheap space for new and emerging businesses.
c. Small blocks – shorter blocks mean more people and shops are closer to each other so they might meet.
d. Population density – lots of people living in a small area means lots of use of city streets, parks, and shops.
4. Form and Function – Cities should be designed for the way that people need to use them, and the way the parts of a city work together does not change over time (we always need parks and shops and libraries and schools!)
5. Local Economies – Cities work best when they rely on a mixture of things they create themselves instead of on imported goods.
6. New Kinds of Work – When there is a big mixture of work in a city, there are more opportunities to add new work when one kind of work is no longer needed.
7. Make Many Little Plans – A neighbourhood can only invite diversity of activity when lots of different people are allowed to follow their own little plans, whether those plans are carried out by themselves or with others.
8. Gradual Money – To grow well, both #6 and #7 above depend on steady money from a lot of different places.
9. Organized Complexity – Just like our earth or our bodies, everything in a city is connected to everything else and must be observed and analyzed from the human viewpoint.
10. Citizen Science – The people who understand city complexity best are the people who live in and are interested in that city. They learn and see and experience the city directly, and do not assume designs will work without real proof.