Jane Jacob's Community-based Approach to Urban Planning

This solution addresses top-down planned cities that stifle thriving communities in cities across the world for all residents

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Problem Description

Jane Jacobs evolved this style of thinking as a response to a particular brand ("oxthodox") of city planning that emphasized a number of elements that she saw a disruptive to the natural rhythms and flows of people in urban areas. She opens her classic book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," that contains these ideas: "This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding." The common linkage between most of the negative views of city planning she observed was that these places aimed to limit the presence of pedestrians from downtown areas. They stifled the human elements of downtown city centers via an increase of things like highways and suburbs, and decrease of things like sidewalks and green spaces.

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On May 4th 2016, the late Jane Jacobs would have been 100. Her ideas that first disrupted the urban planning world at the turn of the 20th century are just as relevant today. With cities across the US and the world still grappling over the best ways to simultaneously promote development and maximize human livelihoods, Jacobs' practical theories offer many lessons and warnings about the pitfalls of urban planning.

Jacobs' legacy lives on as a fierce proponent of communities, and urban planning that support them. Her grasp of a common sense, and ground-up style of observing and thinking, remains as a benchmark for many present day planners.

The Jane Jacobs Medal, awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation (who originally funded her 1962 "Death and Life..." ), is granted each year to "individuals whose work creates new ways of seeing and understanding New York, challenges traditional assumptions, and creatively uses the urban environment to make NYC a place of hope and expectation."


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  • The Death or Life of a Sidewalk Ballet

    A column, written by Alex Marshall, appearing in the magazine, "Governing."

  • The Jane Jacobs Project

    Documentary project cataloguing the life work of Jacobs

  • Celebrating Jane Jacobs' Centennial

    From the Huffington Post

  • Jane Jacobs: Her Life and Work

  • Rereading: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

    From The Guardian

  • What is Placemaking?

    From the project for public spaces

  • Celebrating Jane Jacobs

    A collection of posts from Curbed that celebrate Jane Jacobs on her 100th birthday

  • The Death and Life of Great Italian Cities: A Mobile Phone Data Perspective

    "The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written in 1961 and is now one of the most influential book in city planning. In it, Jane Jacobs proposed four conditions that promote life in a city. However, these conditions have not been empirically tested until recently. This is mainly because it is hard to collect data about “city life”. The city of Seoul recently collected pedestrian activity through surveys at an unprecedented scale, with an effort spanning more than a decade, allowing researchers to conduct the first study successfully testing Jacobs’s conditions. In this paper, we identify a valuable alternative to the lengthy and costly collection of activity survey data: mobile phone data. We extract human activity from such data, collect land use and socio-demographic information from the Italian Census and Open Street Map, and test the four conditions in six Italian cities. Although these cities are very different from the places for which Jacobs’s conditions were spelled out (i.e., great American cities) and from the places in which they were recently tested (i.e., the Asian city of Seoul), we find those conditions to be indeed associated with urban life in Italy as well. Our methodology promises to have a great impact on urban studies, not least because, if replicated, it will make it possible to test Jacobs’s theories at scale."

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