By Alex Marshall:

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Not far from Jane Jacob’s famed home on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, and the White Horse tavern, and her famous street ballet, lies the West Fourth subway stop at 6th Avenue and 4th Street. It’s a massive thing, one of the largest in the entire system, with eight tracks across four platforms on two levels. Seven subway lines—the A, B, C, D, E, F and M—connect there, and the station pumps thousands of people per hour onto the streets of the quaint village. This stop, and the trains and tunnels it leads to, are crucial to how Greenwich Village functions.

Yet Jacobs makes virtually no mention of this stop nor, amazingly enough, the New York City subway system in her masterpiece and most influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This omission points to something Jacobs didn’t get, which was infrastructure: the big systems that make a city work. …

… let’s look at something she loved, density. How do you get density in an urban neighborhood? You have to make it possible for a lot of people to live well within a small amount of space. This means few or no cars. If people need cars, then they need parking spaces for their cars, and the parking eats up the land and the possibilities for density. So you need subways, streetcar lines and buses. Jacobs didn’t talk much about that in Death and Life, nor did she talk about the other big systems cities rely on. …

I suspect her tendency to not focus on big systems stemmed from her dislike of government, which is necessary to create big systems. Although she is viewed as a woman of the left, she shared with today’s right a deep suspicion of government, particularly big government.  … (But) there’s no escaping that if you love the Great American City, as Jacobs did, you have to love, or at least respect, the big systems that make them possible.