Lack of Diversity Plagues Jacobs's Vision of Urban Change

Fifty years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book, "her vision of urban change [has] won the day," says Inga Saffron. Though her vision of physical diversity has prevailed, "that vision is also giving us a new kind of sterility."

"Jacobs, whose The Death and Life of Great American Cities serves as the bible for city-lovers and modern planners, believed that blighted neighborhoods would regenerate organically if left to their own devices," writes Saffron. "But Jacobs’s predictions of multi-generational, multi-race, mixed-income kumbaya hasn’t turned out quite as she hoped."

What Jacobs called "unslumming," would see existing residents "fix up their homes as their economic circumstances improved over time," attracting a gradual influx of newcomers drawn to "the charms of these diverse, lived-in neighborhoods."

"Unfortunately," says Saffron, "that rarely happens. Today we know the process she described by another name entirely: It’s not unslumming. It’s gentrification, a word that doesn’t sound nearly as quaint or benign....Appealing as it sounds in theory, Jacobs’s picture of hard-working locals hammering and spackling their way to an unslummed paradise has proved more romanticized than real."

"It turns out that the old complaint against gentrification, that it drives out minorities, is far too simplistic. Instead, we should be worrying about a different concern: It hasn’t built the diversity that Jacobsian urbanists envisioned, and that cities need. Diversity, in all its forms, is the urban advantage; it’s what lured a suburb-raised generation to 19th century rowhouses in the first place. After all these years of trying to revive their old neighborhoods, what a shame if it turns out that American cities have birthed a new kind of monotony."

Full Story: The Real Problem with Gentrification

Comments

Comments

Has She Read Jane Jacobs?

I have to wonder whether the writer of this article has ever read Jane Jacobs' _Death and Life_. Far from ignoring the problem the problem this article talks about, Jacobs did write about it at length in the chapter titled "The Self-destruction of Diversity."

She also did something about it. After stopping New York's slum-clearance plan for the West Village, her group got the city to build the West Village Houses on vacant land in the neighborhood, so there would be permanently affordable housing there.

It is remarkable that Jacobs thought about the problem of gentrification and acted on it before the word was even invented. She wrote at a time when urban neighborhoods were being abandoned for the suburbs - think about Jimmy Carter visiting the south Bronx 16 years after _Death and Life_ was published, and seeing a neighborhood that looked as if it had been bombed out during a war.

At the time, it was plausible that many urban neighborhoods would be unslummed by their residents and would remain diverse and mixed income. There were only a few neighborhoods like Greenwich Village where gentrification was a threat.

Misrepresenting Jane Jacobs seems to be a developing industry. This article joins Ed Glaeser's claim that she supported a 5-story height limit.

Gentrification other areas

I don't have a problem with gentrification. None whatsoever. And I'm getting a little tired of hearing people complain about it. I'd rather have a gentrified urban core, whose economic engine hums along for large numbers of people who don't need the huge government subsidies for cars and roads that the suburbs need, than the alternative.

As for those "locals hammering and spackling their way to an unslummed paradise," well, they can often benefit from the growing property values and jobs created by that gentrification, whether they own or rent, and, if they must move outside of their neighborhood, can indeed find another place to put their individual stamp on and, thus, start the process all over again, as it should be, and, really, always was, before suburbia came along and wrecked the economic engine that cities once were.

Title should read

Title should read "Gentrification benefits other areas."

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