As I sit here trying to block out the Jack Johnson music in the background, I’ve begun to think about cities, in general, and Jane Jacobs, in particular. I’ll definitely have to pick up her most famous book, as soon as I can (what are the chances that the BPL still has copies, on hand, this week?).
My friend over at The City Record and Boston News-letter has a quick rundown of some of her beliefs:
While her conclusions have sometimes been carried to absurd lengths, her four conditions for a thriving urban neighborhood still hold true (pardon my paraphrasing):
1. Neighborhoods must serve more than one primary function to â€œinsure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedulesâ€?
2. â€œMost blocks must be short, that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.â€?
3. The district â€œmust mingle buildings that vary in age and conditionâ€?.
4. â€œThere must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.â€?
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, pp. 150-151
So, take those criteria, and use them to measure the success (or failure) of Boston’s neighborhoods. Start with the North End (which has a central role in Ms. Jacob’s 1961 book, actually), then think about the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the South End. (I wouldn’t include the city’s other neighborhoods, because they aren’t “urban” enough – not enough big buildings or high densities; I think she is more talking about “downtown” areas, when she talks about “cities”.)
My random thoughts:
1. Most people in Boston Proper work on a 9-5 schedule, so they are on the streets early in the morning, and then between 5-7, in the evening, perhaps out later on the weekends. Not much 24-hour circulation.
2. Boston is very lucky – it has short blocks, making it easier to walk around.
3. Um, yeah. About this one. Mixture of ages and conditions of buildings? Yeah. Sure. In other words, FAILURE.
4. A density of people? Boston is on the edge, here, I think. It almost doesn’t have enough density in the downtown areas to qualify.
What do other people think?
Source: Jane Jacobs, Urban Realist, 1916-2006 – The City Record and Boston News-letter