Eyes on the Street

Perhaps the most quoted, and arguably the most important, concept of Jane Jacobs work was ‘eyes on the street.’   In Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane wrote:

There must be eyes on the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street.  They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.  The sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce a sufficient number of people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks.

Mixed-use neighborhoods are an integral aspect to having eyes on the street.  Neighborhoods that contain a variety of building types and uses have people watching the streets throughout the day from residents, visitors  and shops and business owners.   Jane argues that having such  ‘eyes on the street’ not only not increased a feeling of security in a neighborhood, but actually reduces crime levels.

In addition to making street safer, having eyes on the street induces more people to get out and participate in their community. again from DLGAC: “Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. … Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

Downtown Phoenix Piublic Market

Downtown Phoenix Public Market

This principle can be witnessed first hand in downtown Phoenix.  For several decades, much of downtown Phoenix with few mixed used buildings and few people on the street for most of the day.  As a result, it was thought by many to be unsafe and so few people ventured out, especially after the business day.  However, over the past decade, building on the ground work laid of urban pioneers such as Kimber Lanning and Greg Esser (and a multitude of other visionaries), downtown Phoenix  has began to reemerge as a vital urban hub.  This is exemplified by the success of First Friday Art walks and buoyed in recent years by the establishment of  the establishment of the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, TGen, and ASU’s downtown Phoenix Campus.  As a result, there has been an influx of new visitors and residents to down Phoenix–i.e. ‘eyes on the street’ that have increased the communities feeling of safety and perceptively reduced criminal activities.

The importance and impact that increased human activity has, not only on neighborhood safety, but also on community building will be one of the topics discussed during Jane’s Walk Phoenix on May 2, 2009.  Join us to learn more and add your own ‘eyes’ to the streets of downtown Phoenix.


4 responses to “Eyes on the Street

  1. “Eyes on the street” is a nice metaphor for why some projects enliven urban space more than others. Parking garages may be a necessary evil in some locations, but they should always incorporate ground-floor retail so as to not disrupt street life for an entire block. Here in Phoenix, the garage next to the US Airways Center does that well, while the nearby Garage Mahal across from Chase Field does not do so at all.

  2. Of the many blog posts discussing Jane’s Walks in North America this is one of the best out there! Congratulations and thank you for bringing this useful information to your community. Great stuff!

  3. Just found your blog – it’s fantastic. Keep up the good work!

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