Sample Urban Essays Paper on Jane Jacobs Critical Essay (madi)

Jane Jacobs Critical Essay (madi)

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a book written by an activist and a writer in the year 1961 known as Jane Jacobs. The work of the activist involves criticizing urban planning policy of the year 1950s. According to the book, the policies are to be held responsible for the declining being experienced in United States’ many cities neighborhoods. The book has acted against the modernist planning of the current time where it has supported the approval for organic city vibrancy in the America. The author has described the modernist urban planning to have rejected the city because the urban has rejected and prevented the way human beings used to live and are hence residing in a community that is characterized by a lot of complexions and apparent chaos. According to the book, the modernist planners applied deductive ways of reasoning in their effort towards finding the principles which they were to apply in planning the cities. The author considers the urban renewal to be the most violent policy among the policies used to plan the cities. She also argued that separation of use policy that included residential commercial and industrial to be the most prevailing policy even in the current times. According to the book, these policies are described to be destroying communities and innovative economies where she argued that they played a significant role in creating isolated and unnatural urban spaces (Jacobs 14).

The book is divided into four major parts which are criticizing the ideas in regards to the way cities should be like as described by ideologues such as Le Corbusier and Ebenezer Howard and the way they currently are in reality describing them as complex organic systems. The author began her work with blunt pugilism where she has attacked the current rebuilding plans of the city. The book has outlined the description of the author’s journey which she took to Boston’s North End neighborhood in the year 1959.  According to her description, the city was safe, healthy and friendly for the lives of human beings. She had a different opinion to that of elite planners and the area financier and contrasted with their lamentation that described the city as a terrible slam that needed renewal. She traced the origin of orthodox urbanism from the branding the mainstream of cities theory of cities that had managed to penetrate the way bureaucrats, bankers, and planners thought as an elaborated learned superstition (Jacobs 37).

 In the activist’s argument, she proposed four generators of diversity and dismissed the applied policies that would be used to bring into existence effective economic pools of use. The four generators of diversity included mixed primary uses where she advocated for the activation of streets at different times of the day to avoid traffics. The author also advocated for the short blocks that were according to her argument meant to allow high pedestrian permeability. The third generators of diversity that she advocated for was the construction of different ages and states of repair and finally density.  The book has indicated that the views of the author were differing with those of the modernists that are described to be playing an important role in perpetuation of redundancy, vibrancy order and proper organization of the cities. The author when describing the vibrant urban community, for instance, has used New York City’s Greenwich as her city of reference. The book played a significant role to slow down the development of urban in Toronto and Canada since the activist participated fully in the campaign that was intended to stop the Spadina Expressway (Jacobs 45). 

Interpretation of Orthodox Urbanism

The work of the author started with a summary of the development that is observed in the current city planning theory where she described the Garden City of Ebenezer Howard. People looked upon the development of Garden City as a new master-planned form, an independent town that was developed away from many pollutants like noises and unpleasantness that was experienced in the late nineteenth century. The town was viewed as being surrounded by different social amenities like learning institutions, agriculture green belts, and houses that were surrounding a highly recognized commercial center. The Garden City was estimated to accommodate a maximum number of about 30,000 occupants per town. There was a regulation by public authority to regulate land usage and control the increments in the number of commercial activities or population density. The manufacturing companies were permitted to carry their operations at the edges of the city as long as they could be masked behind the green spaces. The concept of operating a Garden City was initially practiced in the UK where it was developed by Letchworth and Welwyn and on the outskirts of the American city in Radburn, NJ (Hamdi 27).

In the book, the author tracked the influence of Howards using the celebrities who have inspired American considerably forming group of great thinkers that was referred to as Decentrists. The decentrists had offered a proposal concerning the usage of regional planning which was to be used in improving the cities that were congested. This was meant to attract occupants to a new life of peripheries of towns and suburbs regions and hence reducing the population that was crowding the urban areas (Hamdi 39). The author in her opinions could emphasize on the biases that were brought about by the anti-urban and the people who advocated for the idea of Garden City and Decentrists as well. The intuitions shared by both parties were criticized by the author that supported communities to be self-contained units. They also supported the idea that explained the ways commingled usage of land was prone to results in chaos, volatile and unfavorable environment claiming that streets were a terrible venue for people to interact. They also argued that the constructions of houses should be changed in a way that they were to be built away from the streets and be shifted towards the sheltered green spaces. The Decentrists also supported the discouragement of population density and dictations of important details by permanent plan while discouraging application of organic dynamism. All of the institutions were critically analyzed by the author criticizing each one of them (Hamdi 45).

The author continued with her observation of orthodox urbanism with observing Le Corbusier that the Radiant City idea was projected to have a Great Park having about 24 towering skyscrapers. Le Corbusier apparently appeared to differ with the Decentrists ideas of low-rise and low density and demonstrated the proposal of a vertical city holding a capacity of 2,200 occupants in every acre which acted as a way of extending the primary idea of the Garden City. Le Corbusier in his idea of recreating the moribund downtown he supported the creation of wide scopes covered with grasses that were meant to keep the pedestrians off the streets and hence maintaining them in the city, strictly controlled neighborhood planning, and easy accessing of the automobile (Jacobs 55).

Critiques of Orthodox Urbanism

The author admitted that evaluating the ideas of Garden City and the Decentrists could make sense on their conditions, but the frustration arose in that anti-urban biases became unsolvable concerning the way cities should be designed considering both political and academic fields. The disagreement was especially on mortgage financing, zoning decisions, and urban renewal which indicated that the people who were working towards great cities were the same individuals who arranged by systematic planning and united effort to undermine their economies and hence end up killing them. She also criticized the dream city ideas of Le Corbusier where she was disappointed with the impractical and the concepts that were out of the context of any existing city. However, the ideas were embraced by the architects and were applied in the projects that ranged from the public housing for the low-income earners to the office buildings. The author also criticized the way City Beautiful failed to attract visitors and, in contrast, accelerated the downfall of urban (Jacobs 61).

The Importance of Sidewalks

The book has explained the importance of sidewalks in that they should be used as essential means to maintain the order in the city. The orderly city is made up of movements and changes of both people and objects. The author compared the movements in the cities with a form of art and an imaginary dance although she acknowledged it as a real life. Just like the way dance is composed of individual dancers who act differently and support each to come up with orderly movements, the author explained that the sidewalks should reinforce each other and be composed as a whole in an orderly manner (Jacobs 65)

According to the author, cities are essentially different with suburbs and towns mainly because they are occupied by a huge number of strangers (Jacobs 67). To be precise, the ratio of strangers to acquaintances in the cities is significantly twisted and skewed towards one side. This is supported by the fact that cities hold many people who enter without restrictions in a small area. This results in creating a significant challenge in the city which should be the ability to make every person feel secure, safe and that they are not segregated from the large group of rotating strangers. The healthy sidewalks are crucial mean of ensuring that the individuals are secure from any form of negativity and hence preventing misconducts and ease the process of people contacting with each other (Newman, and Thornley 23).


The healthy city sidewalks do not have to depend on regular supervisions from the police for them to be safe. They should have their ways which should be working unconsciously and being made up of a network of non-compelled controls and criteria that are set by the people themselves who are also the primary agents of enforcing them. It is noted in the book that a well-used street is highly probable and hence have high chances of being free from crime. On the other hand, a deserted street has high chances of being unsafe. In her suggestions, she supported that dense volume of people who uses the streets prevent crimes from happening, or they ensure that there are an available first mass responders to minimize the unruly accidents (Jacobs 69).

Busy streets hence have high chances of making the strangers unknowingly and unintentionally spot early signs that there is trouble. This is an indication that healthy sidewalks change the high number of strangers from being a liability to an asset where they watch after each other and hence keeping everyone safe. This mechanism that is self-enforcing works perfectly well when the streets and under the scrutinized and monitored by their natural proprietors who are defined as individuals that enjoy keeping on watching activities that are happening around them. These individuals happen to feels that they are naturally invested in streets unstated codes of conducts and are assured of supports from other streets users when called to lend a helping hand. These individual are acknowledged to have played a major role in forming the first line of defense that administers order on the sidewalk and are only assisted by the police and authority when there is a crucial need.

The author contrasted with the idea of natural proprietors where she argued that the individuals and just temporal block dwellers who do not have a slight idea of how the street is being controlled. She argues that when the neighborhoods manage to accommodate such huge number of these individuals, it will end up being transformed into these natural proprietors and end up becoming insecure and unsafe. The neighborhood would hence become totally perplexed and mixed up, and the occupant would end up drifting away (Jacobs 76).

The author has drawn a thorough comparison where she compared the empty streets with the unmaintained elevators, corridors, and stairwells that are found in the high rise of housing that development that is publicly funded and administered for low-income families. The lack of the amenities of accessing control, proper management, and supervisions, the housing projects become unequipped to handle strangers and hence any presence of a stranger turns out to be an automatic threat. These public projects are open to the public but are protected from public view and in most cases they lack police views and checks which make them vulnerable to destructive and malicious actions. Residents end up feeling unsafe when walking outside their apartments and end up disengaging themselves from the life of these buildings. The author supports that the troubles are reversible where she cited an example of Brooklyn project where theft and vandalism were put under control through opening the corridors to public view. The building was as well equipped to enable different events like allowing tenants to rent them for picnic purposes, and use them as playing spaces (Jacobs 85)

The author also contributed to the idea that busy pedestrians could act as bases for forming a safety city in the absence of the contracted surveillance force. Here she recommends constructions of substantial numbers of stores, restaurants, bars and other social amenities should be put in place and be loosely distributed along the sidewalks. The author argues that the continued negligence of the city planners concerning the sidewalk life would always result in putting residents in a situation where they will have to deal with some mechanisms since the streets would continue being unsafe and deserted. For instance, the residents could end up moving out of the neighborhood, avoid walking on foot to the city and hence increase the use of vehicles when interacting with the city and surround their apartments with fences and policemen patrols (Jacobs 94). 


Sidewalk life plays a significant role in creating casual public interactions which end up helping people to develop a connection with trust and public respects to the fellow citizens. This help in developing a sense that the city dwellers can interact with each other without fearing each other and also end up sharing their personal life experiences with ease. In her book, the author has contrasted the idea of sidewalks interactions with the areas that lack the established sidewalk life. In these regions, for instance, suburbia that has low-density regarding population, residents expose minimal proportion of contacts with a small number of people or end up lacking any contact with other residents. According to her, for the occupants living in these regions must actively choose their neighborhoods and hence suggested that the possibility of this idea can only work well for the upper and middle-class people but cannot work well on the minority whose population is highly dense (Jacobs 98).

Residents who lack sidewalk life have established a conditioned response which deters them from interacting with strangers especially by income levels, educational backgrounds, and even race. The residents hence develop a strong mentality that they should not communicate and share personal experiences and relationships with people who are unlike them. Contrary, bustling sidewalks afford every person same dignity, right of way, and spurs interactions among the strangers without fear of compromising their privacy lives. Sidewalks are also beneficial to children since the can comfortably play their games under the supervision of their parents and natural proprietors in the streets. They also learn about the needs of caring for each other irrespective of their relationships (Jacobs 100).

The function of Parks

Parks should be lively and succeed in playing the same role played by sidewalks due to the diverse uses that result in diversity among the users. The book describes a safe parking as the one that stimulates different uses and encourages repeat users, centering, the one that has enough access to sunlight and enclosure, and has a diversity of surroundings. Dynamism and diversity in the parks attract more liveliness and hence well-designed parks could play a significant role in creating a lively neighborhood (Jacobs 104).  

City Neighborhoods

The authors feared the orthodox idea of a city neighborhood that was as a modular that was composed of about 7,000 occupants; an estimated population of students to use the schools and have enough populates to support the markets and the community center. The author described this definition and simple and illogic where she described characteristics of a great city to be the ease of movements of residents and variability of use across various areas of different size and character, avoiding standardized fragmentation. She defined neighborhood at three different stages of geography and political organization that included different levels of district, city and street. Citing New York as a neighborhood and a parent community where public fund flows, governmental policy and decisions are made and where the conflicts are resolved concerning the general welfare of the districts (Jacobs 109).

The author has eventually defined neighborhood quality concerning how well it is capable of governing and protecting itself over time while at the same time manage to employ a combined residential collaboration, political clout and financially stable. A successful city neighborhood should manage its problem to avoid being overcome by them. The district neighborhood plays a critical role in intermediating the needs of the streets level neighborhood and allocation of resources decisions and policy that are passed at the city level (Jacobs 125).

Critique of Jacobs’ Argument

The micro scale of author’s points of view is introduced in the first part of the book where she explains about the contacts and safety of the sidewalk. A sidewalk is meant to carry pedestrian to their destinations and back to their residents and act as a public space. For a district to be successful, the safety and security of the pedestrians are of great importance, especially while encountering with strangers on the sidewalks. For security and safety of pedestrians to be availed, sidewalks are required to have three qualities which are a clear marking of both private and public spaces, have a continuous presence of users and finally have natural proprietors who always keep eyes on the streets (Newman, and Thornley 54).

The author has expressed the significance of local public characters in neighborhoods where she explained that they play a major role in strengthening the eyes on the sidewalk and assists in forming a social network, disperse the news of the community and connect the neighborhood. However if the change in population is high, the eyes on the on the sidewalks would always be new and hence jeopardizing the safety particularly when children security is the factor under consideration. Similarly, the author has described spaces at the center of superblocks that can be used in rearing children where they can be supervised by parents and proprietors with ease (Jacobs 127). It is worth noting that the design of such structures entirely neglects the external sidewalks since the supervision only pays close attention to the interior spaces and hence developing a force sense of security.  In a situation where a neighborhood park fails to succeed in attracting people, it has to be used as a specialized park that incorporates unique attraction which will make people move to that space (Newman, and Thornley 65).

In the second part of the book, the author has discussed the generators of the city diversity and elaborated on four conditions that have to be met to generate diversity which included the short blocks, primary uses, enough concentrations of residents, and aged buildings. In the primary use, the author explained that these are the social amenities that are believed to be holding the district. The need for the aged building is explained in that facilitate low rent yield and hence encourages the growth of small enterprises. Additionally, to ensure a diverse district is in place, it is necessary to incorporate both medium and high yielding buildings. New apartments can only be profitable for big companies that can afford the high rental charges (Jacobs 129).

Small blocks are essential in that they allow great cross-use in a district or a neighborhood since occupants can explore the streets with ease and hence facilitate an opportunity to carry out businesses. High dense environment ensures that there is increased the number of users on the sidewalks and hence many eyes on the street for the safety purposes.  Conversely, a high dense population can result in the rising housing and decrease the possibilities of sight lines adequately keeping the sidewalks secure and safe. On the other hand, low-density could lead to the developments of slums in a district or neighborhood (Newman, and Thornley 67).

In the third part, the author describes the forces of decline and generation where the danger of great diversity can be destructive when the district concentrates on one specific use due to its profitability. She also wrote on the danger of border vacuums and their adverse effects on cities that results into splitting them into small fragments where she cited the West side of Central Park, New York as an example. The author stated that the best borders are the one that encourages maximization of the use of their perimeters. The author also explained the 1940s and 1950s programs that were formed with intentions of clearing slums that turned to be disastrous. They ended up destroying the neighborhoods completely in their efforts to thwart slums. It is worth noting that to replace the slum, the program has to deal with the problem that created them first otherwise they will continue being redistributed to other districts. The author also proposed the way out in un-slumming slums where she explained the need for protecting people from leaving from them at once. Developing a sense of community would enable the residents to develop their homes over time and hence neighborhood as well (Jacobs 130). 

When explaining the cataclysmic money, the author emphasized that money can only be harmful if it manages in destroying the four conditions of diversity. She also explained the negative effects imposed by financial institutions through the act of blacklisting individuals when extending credit facilities. This has majorly contributed to the development of slums. The only solution would be enabling residents to benefit from credits that they would use to develop themselves through starting businesses and end up developing their homes (Jacobs 149).

The idea of separating people basing on their levels of income appeared unrealistic and contributed towards many challenges especially in the business world where a certain group of clients may fail to afford products that are meant to them. The author has also advocated for the government to subsidize rents for low-income earners which would play a significant role in distributing them around the city. Cars are also acknowledged in the book to be essential assets, but still support that the number should be minimal and put into productive use. The book has played a significant role in its view towards urban planning where its impact has been thought of as being of great importance in the architectural world and Ney York. This has also been evidenced in the year 2009 where a block on Hudson Street, Greenwich Village was after the author honoring her diverse ways of thinking concerning cities (Hamdi 89). 

Works Cited

Hamdi, Nabeel. Small change: about the art of practice and the limits of planning in cities. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Jacobs, Jane. “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Readings in Planning Theory, Fourth Edition (2015): 94-109.Print.

Newman, Peter, and Andy Thornley. Planning world cities: globalization and urban politics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.