In Jane Jacobs’s acclaimed The Life and Death of Great American Cities, she intricately articulates urban blight and the ills of metropolitan society by addressing several binaries throughout the course of the text. One of the more culturally significant binaries that Jacobs relies on in her narrative is the effectively paradoxical relationship between diversity and homogeneity in urban environments at the time. In particular, beginning in Chapter 12 throughout Chapter 13, Jacobs is concerned greatly with debunking widely held misconceptions about urban diversity.
Jacobs views diversity as the number of ways in which limited areas of space are allocated, as opposed to having an inherent racial or cultural connotation. Jacobs emphasizes that various types of business and residences are the elements of prospering city neighborhoods. Jacobs begins to explore three main myths. These myths are arguments often cited by city planners against diversity. To begin, the first myth that Jacobs attempts to discredit is that diversity is unattractive. She repudiates this assertion by saying that the opposite is in fact true, in which homogeneity is unappealing. I believe that it is quite detrimental when city planners attempt to create a contrived atmosphere of diversity in order to conceal the existing homogeneity. This is accomplished by artificially building different shapes and styles of buildings to give outsiders the impression of diversity. Jacobs underscores the flaws of contrived diversity in the following excerpt:
But these contrived differences give rise to esthetic difficulties too. Because inherent differences—those that come from genuinely differing uses—are lacking among the buildings and their settings, the contrivances represent the desire merely to appear different.
Essentially, Jacobs says that contrived diversity is just as bad as true homogeneity because contrived diversity is based completely on appearance, not pragmatism, and is therefore dishonest. Jacobs instead champions a combination of aesthetic and practical diversity in the city. Aesthetic differences can come from buildings constructed during different eras. Jacobs adds that having an organic mix of commercial buildings and apartments adds to a city’s diversity and beauty. To conclude her argument, Jacobs states that standard commercial establishments are mixed in with landmarks in functional cities and cites New York as an example. As a native New Yorker, many restaurants, bars and other commercial buildings are located in propinquity to landmarks such as Carnegie Hall and the Empire State Building. Jacobs believes that this combination advocates as the standard for urban planning.
Another myth that Jacobs discusses is that diversity is responsible for traffic congestion. Jacobs’ view is in discord with Robert Moses’ original mission to create cities that would be conducive to automobile transportation. Moses viewed his plans to build bridges and highways through the city...