Revisiting a Prophetic Essay by Jane Jacobs

Fortune has re-published a provocative essay by Jane Jacobs, originally published in the magazine in 1958, as large scale urban renewal projects were taking off in cities across the country.

In the essay, written three years before the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs warns prophetically against the deadening schemes being pushed by modernist architects and planners in cities from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to San Francisco. "From city to city the architects' sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own...Almost without exception the projects have one standard solution for every need: commerce, medicine, culture, government-whatever the activity, they take a part of the city's life, abstract it from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and set it, like a self-sufficient island, in majestic isolation."

As efforts to revitalize downtowns and retrofit suburbs along the principles Jacobs advanced, and reverse the damage wrought by the decades of ill-conceived renewal plans and sprawl she saw coming, her words seem at once dead for their inability to fend off the historically inevitable, and once again alive for their ability to inspire a new generation.

"The remarkable intricacy and liveliness of downtown can never be created by the abstract logic of a few men. Downtown has had the capability of providing something for everybody only because it has been created by everybody. So it should be in the future; planners and architects have a vital contribution to make, but the citizen has a more vital one. It is his city, after all; his job is not merely to sell plans made by others, it is to get into the thick of the planning job himself."

"Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination."

Full Story: Downtown is for People


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