Eyes on the Street

The concept of "eyes on the street" is relevant to a wide variety of neighborhoods, not just the low-rise urban areas that Jane Jacobs wrote about.

Read Time: 2 minutes

December 21, 2017, 12:00 PM PST

By Michael Lewyn @mlewyn

Walking the Dog

Page Light Studios / Shutterstock

Jane Jacobs wrote that urban neighborhoods were safer when there were "eyes on the street": that is, residents and shopkeepers who are naturally drawn to the life of the street, and who, in the course of their activities, monitor the street. Where there are no "eyes on the street" urban spaces are deserted and, thus, less likely to be safe.

When I think of "eyes on the street" I normally think of low-rise urban neighborhoods like New York's West Village (where Jacobs lived for many years). But this doesn't mean that eyes on the street exist only in such neighborhoods. For example, I live in New York’s Murray Hill, an area with many low-rise buildings but also many 10-20 story doorman buildings. Often, the doormen and staff of these buildings stand in front of the building, taking in street life and providing eyes on the street.

Eyes on the street can even exists in more suburban contexts. When I was in Houston's River Oaks (a rich, low-density, in-town neighborhood) I saw people walking in front yards, and lots of home repair and landscaping trucks parked in front of the sidewalks, thus providing a small number of eyes on the street. On the other hand, in the equally affluent area where my mother lives, hardly anyone walks. Why is River Oaks different?

In my mother’s area, the absence of sidewalks discourages walking, long driveways make it easy for workers to park far from the street, and the streets have no space for on-street parking. (For an example, go to Google Street View and look at 4099 Randall Mill Road in Atlanta). The long driveways are, I think, partially related to Atlanta's hilly terrain, but also related to the municipal code, which requires 60-foot setbacks in the lowest density zones (AtlantaCode, sec. 16-04.008).

By contrast, in some River Oaks blocks,* there is just enough street space for on-street parking, and driveways are smaller so workers park on the street. (For an example, look at 3238 Avalon Place in Houston.) If I read Houston's code correctly, Houston houses need only be 25 feet from the street, so driveways can be short (see HoustonCode, 42-156(a)).

So even in a suburban context, there can be a smattering of "eyes on the street," as long as zoning codes and street design rules facilitate on-street parking. 

*Though not all. Other River Oaks blocks had huge yards, and workers' vehicles were invisible. 

Michael Lewyn

Michael Lewyn is an associate professor at Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, in Long Island. His scholarship can be found at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn.


The Hyperloop’s Prospects Dim

The media is coming around to the idea that the hyperloop is not a near-term solution for the country’s transportation woes. It’s too little, too obvious, too late.

September 27, 2022 - James Brasuell

Suburban Homes

Where Housing Costs Are Falling Fastest

Although median home prices remain close to record highs in many cities, some of the country’s priciest metro areas are seeing home prices plummet.

September 23, 2022 - Bloomberg

Miami and Key Biscayne

The Great American Exodus: A Conservative's Perspective

During his keynote speech on September 11 at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis describes the demographic shifts in America since he became governor in 2019 in what he calls the 'Great American Exodus.'

September 27, 2022 - The Wall Street Journal

Man with leather messenger bag riding CitiBike bike on New York street

The Resilience of Bikeshare

The inherent simplicity of bikes makes shared mobility systems a crucial transportation option during natural disasters.

19 minutes ago - Bloomberg CityLab

A map of the northwest corner of Oregon, focusing on the city of Hillsboro.

Cities Plan to Sue Over Oregon’s Parking Reforms

Nine of the 52 cities impacted by the state of Oregon’s parking requirements changes, approved earlier this year, plan to sue to stop the reforms.

1 hour ago - The Oregonian

Quarry House nestled among trees in Park City, Utah

Winners of the 2022 American Society of Landscape Architects

The Society’s annual awards highlight projects focused on reconnecting communities to the landscape and creating healthy community spaces.

2 hours ago - American Society Of Landscape Architects

New Case Study Posted on HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The World’s Leading Event for Cities

Smart City Expo World Congress

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.