For a variety of reasons, I have decided to self host this blog. The new url is:  Please update your bookmarks and any blogroll you have that uses the old link.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but self-hosting allows me several enhancements that will significantly enhance the blog.


Watching: Jane Jacobs—Neighborhoods in Action

A great video produced by the Active Living Network (a project of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). It features an interview with the urban goddess herself.  The clip explores the role of the built environment in physical activity and public health.  /it’s 9 minutes and 46 seconds VERY well spent)

I love her support for skateboarding as an important of youth physical activity.  Lots of good aphorisms at the end as well.

Quick Take: Cars ≠ Freedom

I came across this passage on  The post addresses two main issues that author has with cars.  While coming from a cyclist’s perspective, the post raised points relevant to anybody seeking a more rational approach to our cities.

I though the second passage of the post, on the mistaken idea that cars=freedom, was worth posting in full.  If you enjoy it, and/or have comments, please leave them on the Boston Biker site.   I’m just a messenger.

Human beings have evolved over the eons to favor things that make their lives easy, and shy away from those that make them hard. We are literally wired to enjoy things like sugar, fat, and salty foods, mostly because in the stone age we could never get enough of these foods so evolution wired our brains to search out these “easy” sources of calories. We use our big ol’ frontal lobes to come up with all sorts of ideas to make our lives easy. Farming, domestication of animals, automation, computers, cars…the list goes on and on. Evolution rewards (to a point) those humans that were able to “live the good life” by getting enough food and shelter, because those people had the most kids.

Cars (and more importantly car companies) tap right into that part of us that is seeking out the easier way. Why walk for weeks when you can get in your car and drive there in a day? Why ride your bike for days when you can drive your car there in a couple hours? Why walk for an hour to the store, when you can drive in a couple minutes? And you wonder why there is an obesity crisis?

People are not lazy per-say, they are simply falling victim to the wiring in their head. People don’t get fat because they eat too much, they get fat because we live in a modern world of plenty, but their brains are identical to the stone age hunters that had a very hard time getting food. Their brains tell them to eat lots of salty, sugary, fatty foods, and their bodies are designed to store that up for the hard times, they simply had the bad luck to live in a world FULL of these kinds of food. They suffer from a common problem in modern world, our brains and bodies are not set up for the modern world we have created.

The car culture feeds into that trap. It allows us if we so choose to spend our whole lives without walking a significant distance promoting obesity, and weakness. It allows (and encourages) the development of suburbs, and exurbs, and whatever comes after that, that destroy communities and encourage loneliness. It encases us in a little metal shell that promotes road rage (you don’t feel so bad about honking at the anonymous person in the other car, but would never act that way in an elevator). These are the kinds of things they don’t talk about in car commercials.

Even if you throw out all the physical and psychological negative effects on the human body you are still forced to contend with the fact that cars take up a lot of space. Much of the area in a modern city is dedicated to roads and car parking. Much of that land was taken from things like parks, sidewalks, green space, etc. Putting one person in one car, and then doing that a couple thousand times and your nice wide four lane roads suddenly don’t seem large enough anymore. Lets tear down some buildings and build more roads! Then people see the “ease” at which you can get around, so a couple hundred more people buy cars, and low and behold your 8 lane highway isn’t big enough anymore. Lets try a 16 lane highway! Damn that filled up too, better go with 32! Before long you end up with something like this:

Cars are sold as a luxury, as a path to freedom, to something that will make your life better! But in reality you can’t democratize a luxury. What I mean, is that not everyone can have a luxury item, or else it stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity. Cars are no longer a luxury in many places of this country, in a lot of places if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to the store, or to your job, or to school. Our cities have been designed in a such a horrible way that some people are forced to spend a large part of their work week earning enough money to power the car that gets them to work. Yet car commercials still show a lone traveler speeding through the empty city streets without a hint of traffic in sight.

In short, it’s a lie. The car companies sell freedom and mobility, but in fact offer only gridlock, poor land use, health problems, and global warming.

So what?

So what are we to do? If the “one car one person”, model has failed so fully what do we do to reverse it? The answer is simple, but is going to require a lot of effort. We need to stop designing our lives around cars. That means everything from removing on-street parking, building larger sidewalks, making people pay more for parking, building dense cities, providing good public transportation, and getting more people to ride bikes!

Her Activism Helped Shape the Look and Feel of Cities

Here’s a great overview of Jane Jacobs that I found  though a Google Alert from Free VOA English.  While the goal of this program is to communicate by radio to by radio in plain English with people whose native language was not English, and the audio version is indeed intended for non fluent English speakers, the segment provides an excellent overview of Jane Jacobs, including her background and her contribution to how we think about cities today.  It’s definitely worth your attention.

FEB 13, 2010

Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006: Her Activism Helped Shape the Look and Feel of Cities



I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Jane Jacobs. She was an activist for improving cities.


Jane Jacobs was an activist, writer, moral thinker and economist. She believed cities should be densely populated and full of different kinds of people and activities. She believed in the value of natural growth and big open spaces.  She opposed the kind of city planning that involves big development and urban renewal projects that tear down old communities. She was also a critic of public planning officials who were unwilling to compromise. Jacobs helped lead fights to save neighborhoods and local communities within cities. She helped stop major highways from being built, first in New York City and later in Toronto, Canada.  Developers and city planners often criticized her ideas. Yet, many urban planning experts agree that her work helped shape modern thinking about cities.



Jane Butzner was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in nineteen sixteen. Her father was a doctor. Her mother was a former teacher and nurse. After graduating from high school, Jane took an unpaid position at the Scranton Tribune newspaper. A year later she left Scranton for New York City. During her first several years in the city she held many kinds of jobs. One job was to write about workers in the city. She said these experiences gave her a better idea about what working in the city was like. As a young woman, Jacobs had many interests, including economics, law, science and politics. Her higher education was brief, however. She studied for just two years at Columbia University in New York. Jacobs did not complete her college education, but she did become an excellent writer and editor. While working as a writer for the Office of War Information she met a building designer named Robert Jacobs.  In nineteen forty-four, they married. They later had three children. Her husband’s work led to her interest in the monthly magazine, Architectural Forum. Jacobs became a top editor for the publication.


Experts have described Jacobs as a writer who wrote well, but not often. She is best known for her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” The book was published in nineteen sixty-one. It is still widely read today by both city planning professionals and the general public. Experts say “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is the most influential book written about city planning in the twentieth century.  In the book, Jacobs criticized the urban renewal projects of the nineteen fifties. She believed these policies destroyed existing inner-city communities and their economies.  She also thought that modern planning policies separated communities and created unnatural city areas. Jacobs described the nature of cities – their streets and parks, the different cultures represented by citizens and the safety of a well-planned city. Safety was an important issue in big cities that had high rates of crime.  Jacobs wrote that peace on the streets of cities is not kept mainly by the police even though police are necessary. It is kept by a system of controls among the people themselves. She believed the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading people out more thinly.  Jacobs argued that a well-used city street is safer than an empty street. Safety, she argued, is guaranteed by people who watch the streets every day because they use the streets every day.



“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” became a guide for neighborhood organizers and the people who Jacobs called “foot people.” These are citizens who perform their everyday jobs on foot. They walk to stores and to work. They walk to eating places, theaters, parks, gardens and sports stadiums. They are not who Jacobs called “car people” – those who drive their cars everywhere.  Jane Jacobs also believed that buildings of different sizes, kinds and condition should exist together. She pointed to several communities as models of excellence. These include Georgetown in Washington, D.C.; the North End in Boston, Massachusetts; Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, California.  She also supported mixed-use buildings as a way to increase social interaction. Such buildings have stores and offices on the ground floor. People live on the upper floors. Mixed-use buildings are a lot more common in American cities than in the suburban areas around them.


Jane Jacobs also noted New York City’s Greenwich Village as an example of an exciting city community. This is one of the communities that was saved, in part at least, because of her writings and activism. In nineteen sixty-two, Jacobs headed a committee to stop the development of a highway through Lower Manhattan in New York City. The expressway would have cut right through Greenwich Village and the popular SoHo area. Influential New York City developer Robert Moses proposed the plan. But huge public protests in nineteen sixty-four led the city government to reject it. Jacobs’ book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” helped influence public opinion against the expressway.



In nineteen sixty-nine, Jacobs moved to the Canadian city of Toronto where she lived for the rest of her life. Part of her reason for leaving the United States was because she opposed the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. At that time, she had two sons almost old enough to be called for duty. Jacobs continued to be a community activist in Toronto.  She was involved in a campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway through Toronto. This highway would have permitted people living in suburban areas outside Toronto to travel into and out of the city easily.  Jacobs organized citizens against the Spadina Expressway and the politicians who supported it. One of her most important issues was this question: “Are we building cities for people or for cars?” Today, experts say Toronto is one of only a few major cities in North America to have successfully kept a large number of neighborhoods in its downtown area. Many experts believe this is because of the anti-Spadina movement led by Jane Jacobs.


Jane Jacobs spent her life studying cities. She wrote seven books on urban planning, the economy of cities, and issues of commerce and politics. Her last book, published in two thousand four, was Dark Age AheadIn it, Jacobs described several major values that she believed were threatened in the United States and Canada. These included community and family, higher education, science and technology and a government responsive to citizens’ needs.  In Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs argued that Western society could be threatened if changes were not made immediately. She said that people were losing important values that helped families succeed.  In Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs also criticized how political decision-making is influenced by economics. Governments, she said, have become more interested in wealthy interest groups than the needs of the citizens. Jacobs also warned against a culture that prevents people from preventing the destruction of resources upon which all citizens depend.



Jane Jacobs had her critics. Many of them argued that her ideas failed to represent the reality of city politics, which land developers and politicians often control. Others argued that Jacobs had little sympathy for people who want a lifestyle different from the one she proposed. Still, many urban planning experts say her ideas shaped modern thinking about cities. She has had a major influenced on those who design buildings and towns that aim to increase social interaction among citizens.  Jane Jacobs died in two thousand six in Toronto at the age of eighty-nine. Her family released a statement on her death. It said: “What’s important is not that she died but that she lived, and that her life’s work has greatly influenced the way we think. Please remember her by reading her books and implementing her ideas.”



This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein. You can read scripts and download audio from our web site. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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Quick Take: Living in Mrs. Jacobs’ Neighborhood

I came across this post on  one of my favorite resources for all things urban.

Living in Mrs. Jacobs’ Neighborhood

Wed, 02/10/2010 – 11:54

A decade or so ago, after reading some of Jane Jacobs’ work, I became aware of the distinction between mixed-use and single-use neighborhoods.  In those days, I imagined that in a well-functioning urban neighborhood, every non-polluting use would be mixed together, and the lion of housing would lay down with the lamb of commerce.

Jane's Toronto House

But for the past few months, I have lived just six blocks from Jacobs’ Toronto house, in the Annex neighborhood.  And in the Annex, I have learned that the distinction between sprawl and walkable urbanism is a little more subtle than the bumper-sticker phrase “mixed-use” suggests.In the Annex, as in conventional sprawl development (CSD), most businesses  are on a few major streets, especially Bloor Street West between Spadina and Bathurst. Although Bloor has a few residences above shops, Bloor is primarily a commercial street.

So how is Bloor different from San Jose Boulevard (the sprawling commercial street of my former neighborhood in Jacksonville)?  Bloor’s distinction rests less on diversity of uses than on street design.

San Jose has a wide variety of commercial activities near some residential blocks, but is as wide as eight lanes in some spots- too wide to be comfortable for pedestrians.  Bloor is only four lanes wide, and is thus relatively easy for pedestrians to cross.  And on Bloor, nearly every commercial building immediately adjoins the sidewalk, rather than being set back from the sidewalk by yards of parking.

As a result, pedestrians can easily access shops, rather than dodging cars on the way to their destination.   And because the nearby residential blocks are part of a grid system, neighborhood residents don’t have to hop from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac to reach Bloor’s businesses.  In sum, Bloor is pedestrian-friendly less because of mixed use than because of pedestrian-friendly street design and compact development.

The Annex’s residential streets, like those in my old neighborhood in Jacksonville, are at least somewhat single-use: streets with large apartment complexes (St. George and Spadina near Bloor) have very few single-family structures, and other residential streets are dominated by houses and duplexes.  So in a sense, the Annex’s streets are as single-use as a typical suburban subdivision- both types of streets are dominated by one type of structure.

But there are two significant differences between an Annex street and a CSD street.  First, some of the Annex houses have been cut up into small apartments; thus, on an Annex street, single-family houses and duplexes often coexist with very small apartment houses (though not with high-rises).  More importantly, the Annex’s residential streets are more compact than their equivalents in sprawl subdivisions: houses are closer together, and are often duplexes.  Thus, more people live on an Annex street than live on a typical residential street in Jacksonville, which means that the Annex has the density to support good public transit.

In sum, what makes the Annex walkable is not so much that every street mixes uses; rather, it is that the commercial streets are easily accessible from the residential ones, thus creating a mixed-use neighborhood.

NOTE: To see some examples of what I am talking about, go to Google Street View at  To see Bloor, go to anyplace between 350 and 600 Bloor Street West in Toronto.  To see a typical residential street, go to Albany Avenue, just north of Bloor (Jane Jacobs lived on this stretch of Albany).    To see an apartment-oriented street, go to St. George St. or Spadina Road just north of Bloor.  To see my old sprawl street in Jacksonville, go to 10000 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville.

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Jane Jacobs, Gentrifier?

I came across this post on Planetizen. It provides an interesting perspective and touched on an issue that I’ve long wrestled with: authenticity, preservation and organic development. From the article: “just what does authenticity mean, and who is really allowed to claim it?”

Jane Jacobs, Gentrifier?
Posted by: Tim Halbur
11 January 2010 – 9:00am

Prof. Sharon Zukin argues that Jacobs had “a gentrifier’s appreciation of urban authenticity” in her new book, Naked City.

Zukin tackles the issue of gentrification and the people who lay claim to the authenticity of neighborhoods, particularly in New York. She finds no easy answers, but does believe in the quest to preserve authenticity.

In the New York Post: “In the end, New York City development revolves around who successfully claims ownership of a neighborhood. Conflict arises when ‘groups representing the opposing visions claim the same space,’ Zukin says, especially in ‘the conflict over authentic representations of neighborhoods like Red Hook, between old working-class homeowners, public housing project tenants, and gentrifiers.'”

Full Story: Naked City

Source: New York Post, January 10, 2010

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Quick Take: on Jane Jacobs—’Reading a City’

From, The Slow Issue.  Originally posted by Alissa Walker on January 13, 2010 at 7:00 am PST

Reading a City


How the built environment instructs us on how to move through it

Greene Street Jane Jacobs wrote about the “ballet” of the street when describing the rhythm of her Greenwich Village neighborhood, which she viewed as a choreographed exchange between resident and sidewalk, and shopkeeper and stoop. Not too far away, Greene Street in New York’s SoHo neighborhood pulses with the same syncopated footsteps and echoes of Jacobs’s legacy. She prevented this entire neighborhood from becoming the Lower Manhattan Expressway—now cars shudder down the street, forced into submission by century-old cobblestones. The former cast-iron warehouses have been fashioned into frilly storefronts for the well-heeled (and often high-heeled) who stop, gape up at their pillared facades; pause; peer into the jewel-like windows; and are rewarded with detail…

More here

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