October 13, 2009
The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Revisited)
We've received several queries recently in regards to comprehensive planning, and different cities' efforts at updating their comprehensive plans. For those not familiar with her work, Jane Jacobs' books are an excellent resource. One that I'm reading again right now is The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published originally in 1961, and republished by Vintage Books in 1992. Jacobs' observations are timely and prescient. The book emphasizes the need for human scale, sidewalks, parks, and coherent neighborhoods, coupled with diversity of uses, small blocks, "aged" buildings, and density. Concerns about automobiles and traffic and their effect on cities seem eerily familiar. The author is ultimately hopeful. Cities can be rebuilt by changing the way we view them. Jacobs' introduction opens with a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.--a good reminder about why sound land use and strong, vibrant cities matter:
"Until lately the best thing that I was able to think of in favor of civilization, apart from blind acceptance of the order of the universe, was that it made possible the artist, the poet, the philosopher, and the man of scientce. But I think that it is not the greatest thing. Now I believe that the greatest thing is a matter that comes directly home to us all. When it is said that we are too much occupied with the means of living to live, I answer that the chief worth of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex; that it calls for great and combined intellectual efforts, instead of simple, uncoordinated ones, in order that the crowd may be fed and clothed and housed and moved from place to place. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. They mean more life. Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it."
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
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