Tag Archives: Planetizen

Quick Take: Living in Mrs. Jacobs’ Neighborhood

I came across this post on Planetizen.com.  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 maps.google.com.  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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Recent Readings: October 24-29

From my personal site www.yuriartibise.com:

A curation of what’s caught my attention over the past week:

  • Bad Example (or why we fail to adapt good examples): Attempts to answer the question “Why do so many places seem unable to learn even from their own successes, much less others?”  Key quote: “The mark of a great city is in how it treats its ordinary spaces, not its special ones.”
  • Gary Vaynerchuk Live on Crush It Tour (Video): A link to a video recording of a special Gary Vee’s presentation hosted by Doug Sutton with Keller Williams Realty East Valley. I admit that I was skeptical at first, but seeing him speak in front of two different audiences on Tuesday night made me a believer. Though his message was largely the same, he carefully tailored it to the different audience, keeping it fresh and interesting (if anything I though the second time was better suited to me personally, even with the lack of his trademark  ‘colorful language’.)  Gary is truly somebody who gets it. Not just business, or social media, or family, or community, but ALL of it.  If you follow the link to my friend Jay Thompson’s site and leave a comment on Jay’s original post, you can win a copy off Gary’s bestselling book Crush It!.
  • What Jane Jacobs Can Teach Us About the Economy: Jane Jacobs is well known for her contribution to urban thought.  After all, she recently led Planetizen’s recent Top 100 Urban Thinkers poll.   She is less well-known for her insights into economics, although that is quickly changing.  Here ‘s an overview of some of Jane’s economic notions and how they resonate during this recession.
  • Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners: And for a bit of fun to mark the end of October, here are some Halloween costume ideas from Planetizen’s Nate Berg for the incurable urbanist.