Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Criticism of Jane Jacobs or big city approach of Jane Jacobs?

From an interview with Catherine Thumber:

You’re quite critical of some of the urban theorists and economists who’ve conceived of ways of revitalizing cities after the 1960s. Why?

They’ve made the metropolis the ideal urban form, when that had not always been the case. I lay much of the blame for that on Jane Jacobs—as much as I admire her—who framed the intellectual response to widespread urban decline, ignoring what she called “little cities and dull factory towns,” and arguing that urbanism thrives only in large and growing cities. She influenced the next two generations of urban theorists—people like Richard Florida and Ed Glaeser—who, while they don’t ignore smaller cities, advise them to do things like develop a creative class of artists, try to attract knowledge industries, and develop a tourist trade. These are not necessarily economic strategies that will work in smaller cities. As much as Scranton is a nice small city, it’s probably never going to have a substantial tourist trade. In the 1960s, there had been a debate between Jacobs and the social critic Lewis Mumford about different visions of urbanism. In the 1920s and 30s, Mumford argued against concentrating all of our wealth and cultural riches in large cities, and for valuing smaller cities as well, including the farmland and the ecological region in which they’re set. Jacobs basically won the debate, which is why we don’t really hear about Mumford’s vision.

A summary of her arguments are here.

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