Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.
A celebration of the unplanned, improvised city of streets and corners, Jacobs’s is a landscape that most urban-planning rhetoric of the time condemned as obsolete and slummy, something to be replaced by large-scale apartment blocks with balconies and inner-courtyard parks. She insisted that such Corbusian super blocks tended to isolate their inhabitants, depriving them of the eyes-on-the-street crowding essential to city safety and city joys.
She told the story of a little girl seemingly being harassed by an older man, and of how all of Hudson Street emerged from stores and stoops to protect her (though she confesses that the man turned out to be the girl’s father). She made the still startling point that, on richer blocks, a whole class of eyes had to be hired to play the role that, on Hudson Street, locals played for nothing: “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes.”
A hired neighborhood! It’s obvious once it’s said, but no one before had said it, because no one before had seen it.