Livable Housing Design

All of us have seen videos of buildings being imploded. Often these buildings at one time had been billed as the promise of affordable housing in cities. Instead, these massive high-density housing projects became breeding grounds for crime and soulless living. Jane Jacobs was a pioneer in helping rethink the urban landscapes that were livable.

Jane Jacobs (née Butzner) was born in Scranton, PA. She and her sister moved to New York City and lived in Greenwich Village. She worked as a freelance writer. After a series of jobs in the publishing industry, she was hired by the Architectural Forum to serve as an Associate Editor, and she began to write about urban planning.

It was an assignment to cover a development in Philadelphia that led Jane to challenge current thinking in urban development. She was very critical of the project and how it destroyed the life of the community. While the project was designed to increase the value of underdeveloped areas of the city, it had adverse impacts on the African Americans who lived in the area.

Jane saw similar problems in East Harlem and had the opportunity to address architects and urban planners at a Harvard forum. Her talk was well received and she was invited to write an article for Fortune. This article then led to support from the Rockefeller Foundation culminating in a book entitled The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Jane became an activist for the preservation of livable neighborhoods and against high-density development. At one rally, she was arrested for inciting a riot. The charges were later reduced to disorderly conduct.

Jane’s legacy is the acknowledgment that cities were ecosystems and that urban planning should be bottom-up, involving citizens as advocates for their own living space. These ideas have now become universally accepted.

Jane’s Walks have now been conducted in cities around the world. These walks are opportunities to explore how Jane’s ideas can be applied. They are community organized and run events to create ownership in how livable space is designed.

In recent years, more and more communities are recognizing how important it is to engage citizens in thinking about all aspects of their communities. There is an increase in turning away from the use of experts. Jane’s work focused primarily on urban design but just imagine how the same principles she espoused could apply to many facets of our society. She pioneered efforts to restore the voices of the people as a primary determinant in the future of cities.

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            “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when they are created by everybody”.  – Jane Jacobs

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