Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Urbanology; Jane Jacobs

I have recently taken an interest in urbanology, and started reading a book by writer, urbanologist and activist, Jane Jacobs called, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." This led me to research, Jane Jacobs further and the idea of Urbanology. So what is Urbanology? According to the Institute of Urbanology's website (2014), Urbanology is defined as;

"the understanding of incremental developmental processes and daily practices in any given locality through direct engagement with people and places. The institute contributes to the debate on urban development by engaging with local community groups, creating new concepts, implemnting projects and recommending strategies and policies."

In the book, Jane Jacobs() has used ethnographic research methods of observing first hand the districts and neighbourhoods of New York, in particular her home district of Greenwhich Village, which she frequently refers to throught the book. The book has four parts, in which Jacobs puts across different ideaologies that all in turn affect the planning and organisation of our built environments and the subsequent spaces and layouts, criticising previous idealogues of what cities should be like, such as Le Corbusier and Ebenezer Howard, to what they are in reality, complex organic systems. (Jacobs, 1961)

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” (Jacobs, 1961)

The four main areas of interest for Jane Jacobs were; cities as ecosystems, mixed use development, bottom- up community planning and the case for higher density.

The quick 2 minute video below shows an interview with Jane Jacobs in which she commented on the rigid, outdated process of designers, architects and politians when it came to city planning and instead recognised that actually going and observing successful city spaces was infact, "most impotant", when it comes to understanding how they work. From these observations Jacobs began to see connections and noted that people werent just wandering around only thinking of where they were going but that people were affecting the safety of the city and promoting their causes, she comments that "the more you watch the more interesting connections you saw." Jacbos also makes the point that it isnt just the human conncetions or relationships with the space but parks are connected to pavements and so on.

“…that the sight of people attracts still other people, is something that city planners and city architectural designers seem to find incomprehensible. They operate on the premise that city people seek the sight of emptiness, obvious order and quiet. Nothing could be less true. The presences of great numbers of people gathered together in cities should not only be frankly accepted as a physical fact – they should also be enjoyed as an asset and their presence celebrated…” 
 (Jane Jacobs, cited by Project for Public Spaces 2014)


Jacobs approached cities as living beings and ecosystems. She suggested that over time, buildings, streets and neighborhoods function as dynamic organisms, changing in response to how people interact with them. She explained how each element of a city – sidewalks, parks, neighborhoods, government, economy – functions together synergistically, in the same manner as the natural ecosystem. This understanding helps us discern how cities work, how they break down, and how they could be better structured.


Jacobs advocated for “mixed-use” urban development – the integration of different building types and uses, whether residential or commercial, old or new. According to this idea, cities depend on a diversity of buildings, residences, businesses and other non-residential uses, as well as people of different ages using areas at different times of day, to create community vitality. She saw cities as being “organic, spontaneous, and untidy,” and views the intermingling of city uses and users as crucial to economic and urban development.


Jacobs contested the traditional planning approach that relies on the judgment of outside experts, proposing that local expertise is better suited to guiding community development. She based her writing on empirical experience and observation, noting how the prescribed government policies for planning and development are usually inconsistent with the real-life functioning of city neighborhoods.


Although orthodox planning theory had blamed high density for crime, filth, and a host of other problems, Jacobs disproved these assumptions and demonstrated how a high concentration of people is vital for city life, economic growth, and prosperity. While acknowledging that density alone does not produce healthy communities, she illustrated through concrete examples how higher densities yield a critical mass of people that is capable of supporting more vibrant communities. In exposing the difference between high density and overcrowding, Jacobs dispelled many myths about high concentrations of people. Local Economies By dissecting how cities and their economies emerge and grow, Jacobs cast new light on the nature of local economies. She contested the assumptions that cities are a product of agricultural advancement; that specialized, highly efficient economies fuel long-term growth; and that large, stable businesses are the best sources of innovation. Instead, she developed a model of local economic development based on adding new types of work to old, promoting small businesses, and supporting the creative impulses of urban entrepreneurs." (Project for Public Spaces, 2014)
"To generate diversity....the district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition." - (Jacobs cited by Tibaulds, 2001)


Damien Wooliscroft. (2012). Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Available: Last accessed 16/12/2014.

Edmund P. Fowler (1995). Building Cities That Work. 2nd ed. Canada: Mc-Gill Queen's University Press. 67.

Francis Tibbalds (2001). Making People-Friendly Towns: Improving the Public Environment in Towns and Cities. London: Spon Press. 145.

Institue Of Urbanology Admin. (2014). Institue Of Urbanology. Available: Last accessed 16/12/2014.

Jane Jacobs (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. USA: Vintage.

Professor Lineu Castello (2010). Rethinking the Meaning of Place: Conceiving Place in Architecture-Urbanism. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited. 149.

Project for Public Spaces. (2014). Jane Jacobs. Available: Last accessed 16/12/2014

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