23 July 2007

Jane Jacobs Quote #2

We can see around us, from the days preceding project building, many examples of decaying city neighborhoods built up all at once... Every city has such physically homogeneous neighborhoods.

Usually just such neighborhoods have been handicapped in every way, so far as generating diversity is concerned. We cannot blame their poor staying power and stagnation entirely on their most obvious misfortune: being built all at once. Nevertheless, this is one of the handicaps of such neighborhoods, and unfortunately its effects can persist long after the buildings have become aged.

When such an area is new, it offers no economic possibilities to city diversity. The practical penalties of dullness, from this and other causes, stamp the neighborhood early. It becomes a place to leave.

Neighborhoods built up all at once change little physically over the years as a rule. The little physical change that does occur is for the worse - gradual dilapidation, a few random, shabby new uses here and there. People look at these few, random differences and regard them as evidence, and perhaps as a cause, of drastic change. Fight blight! They regret that the neighborhood has changed. Yet the fact is physically it has changed remarkably little. People's feelings about it, rather have changed. The neighborhood shows a strange inability to update itself, enliven itself, repair itself, or to be sought after, out of choice, by a new generation. It is dead. Actually, it was dead from birth, but nobody noticed this much until the corpse began to smell.

Finally comes the decision, after exhortations to fix up and fight blight have failed, that the whole thing must be wiped out and a new cycle started... A new corpse is laid out. It does not smell yet, but it is just as dead, just as incapable of the constant adaptions and permutations that make up the process of life.

There is no reason why this dismal, foredoomed cycle need be repeated. If such an area is examined to see which of the other three conditions for generating diversity are missing, and then those missing conditions are corrected as well as they can be, some of the old building must go: extra streets must be added, the concentration of people must be heightened, room for new primary uses must be found, public and private. But a good mingling of the old building must remain, and in remaining, they will have become something more than mere decay from the past or evidence of previous failure. They will have become the shelter which is necessary, and valuable to the district, for many varieties of middling-, low- and no-yield diversity. The economic value of new buildings is replaceable in cities. It is replaceable by the spending of more construction money. But the economic value of old buildings is irreplaceable at will. It is created by time. This economic requisite for diversity is a requisite that vital city neighborhoods can only inherit, and then sustain over the years.

page 198, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published 1961

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