Jacobs' Criteria for Success
Analysis of Jacobs' observations about neighborhoods requires defining what is meant by "failed" or, conversely, successful. Jacobs never clearly articulates an objective definition for failure or success, although the numerous examples and anecdotes in the book describing different neighborhoods do give implications of her opinions. It is clear that she has a strong preference for diverse, low-rise, tightly-knit older neighborhoods like the one surrounding her apartment at 555 Hudson Street in the West Village. Indeed, Jacob's passion almost seems to be an attraction to the largely vanished New York City of the mid 19th century.
Jacobs also had an unambiguous distaste for the large-scale development of her time, which had as their inspiration Le Corbusier's Radiant City (1920s), Ebeneezer Howard's Garden City (1898) and Daniel Burnham's City Beautiful (1893). Her preferences are more qualitative than quantitative, praising the Boston's North End neighborhood (which many in her time considered to be a slum) as full of "buoyancy, friendliness and good health" (Jacobs 1961, 13). Her repeated insults to neighborhoods she finds undesirable are the adjectives "dull" and "gray," or, expropriating a word from the urban renewers of her day, "The Great Blight of Dullness."
Jacobs' most direct (albeit ambiguous) definition of success in stated in her chapter on, "The Uses of City Neighborhoods":
A successful city neighborhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it is not destroyed by them. An unsuccessful neighborhood is a place that is overwhelmed by its defects and problems and is progressively more helpless before them. (Jacobs 1961, 146)
This conceptualization of success is clearly a reaction to the post-WWII decline of cities that she was observing in the 1950s. Jacobs elevates diversity as a primary virtue from which success flows, and she is explicit in spelling out the conditions that lead to diversity:
- Condition 1: The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common (Jacobs 1961, 198).
- Condition 2: Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent (Jacobs 1961, 233).
- Condition 3: The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones (Jacobs 1961, 244).
- Condition 4: The district must have a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purpose they may be there. This includes people there because of residence (Jacobs 1961, 261).
Next: What Jacobs Got Right and Wrong