Jane Jacob’s The Life And Death Of American Cities

2113 words - 8 pages

History is regarded as imperative in our understanding of the social attitudes and contex¬¬t on how design function within society and by evaluating these values, we are able to create room for possibilities and changes. In Jane Jacob’s publication of “The Death and Life American Cities,” in 1962, she undermines the conventions of urban planning that bought prominence to New Urbanism movement, playing a pivotal role in today’s planning of the cities at the advent of environmentalism. In parallel to this, with the increased awareness of environmentalism that arose in the 1960s, the bicycle presents itself as an object of opposition to car-centric society as a green alternative, which embodies the sustainable vision of the future in contemporary environmentalism.

While history presents us a foundation to our knowledge of the past that shapes the presents, it can also offer much needed alternatives to dogmatic views as evident in Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of American Cities.” Jacob engages with a framework that arises from a space outside the dominant system of modernist, orthodox city planning and rebuilding in the post-war U.S. She begins her book with, “an attack on current city planning and rebuilding... and an attempt to introduce new principles,” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 5) by providing examples on failures of planning in contributing to large-scale urban redevelopment projects, which led to wasteful use of space and a heavy reliance on cars. By examining the foundations and countering the logic of orthodox city planning from Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, Le Corbusier’s Radiant and City Beautiful Movement led by Daniel Burnham (1961, p. 23), Jacob observes how these modernist ideas became embedded into the profession of planning that shaped the cities as it is, contributing to its degeneration. In doing so, she notices how more training one receives in design education that is guided by theories and academic knowledge may be stuck with a framework (Jacob, 1961) and instead, she advocates for a multidisciplinary nature of education that considers the social experiences, values and society as a whole (Fraser, 2009). By considering how history and context of the design itself came to prominence, it provides an opportunity for one to observe outside the dominant framework and bring forth alternative for changes to the existing system. As Jacob documents these conceptions of modernist planning in the post-war U.S and by presenting a persuasive ground for a critique of both present and the past, she was able to undermine the logic of these existing urban planning conventions.

Besides providing a fresh perspective and from a liberated point of view outside the framework at the release of her book in 1961, Jacobs was able to dismantle the orthodoxy of urban planning in the post-war U.S. Fulford (1992) remarks how she came to be influential as a singular voice without academic reputation or professional credentials and “simultaneously helped to kill...

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