What a city needs

Ed Glaeser asks us to reconsider two of the great adversaries in 20th century urban planning–grassroots activist Jane Jacobs and infrastructure czar Robert Moses–in The New Republic:

Jacobs’s greatest insight was that cities succeed by enabling people to connect with one another. Humans are a social species, and our greatest gift is our ability to learn from others. Many of the finest achievements of human civilization occurred because smart people learned from one another in cities. As Jacobs understood better than anyone else, the chance encounters facilitated by cities are the stuff of human progress.

But Moses was also right that cities need infrastructure. People cannot just argue forever on an unpaved street corner. They need homes to live in and streets to travel along and parks for relaxation. Jacobs underestimated the value of new construction—of building up.

Jacobs’ books, especially Death and Life of Great American Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, were among the first to spur my young self’s interest in social science. They are still classics today. As Glaser writes:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities may still be the most indispensible volume in any urbanist’s library. I do not quite recall where I put my Mumford or my Corbu, but my Jacobs is always close at hand.

Read the full article here. Hat tip to Ezra Klein.

On a related note, see what Holland would look like with its population as dense as L.A. versus Manhattan.

One thought on “What a city needs

  1. Before anyone jumps in in favor of Jane Jacobs, let them review John Kenneth Galbraith’s book about the crash of 1929. It’s obviously about Wall Street, but one little detail jumped out at me:

    Labor Day weekend, 1929, the pre-Robert Moses roads back into New York city became so clogged with cars that people eventually abandoned their cars and walked home to New York City.

    Now, I’m sure that that last long weekend before the epic stock market crash probably was the point in time in the history of the 20th century that New York’s roads were overloaded with the newfangled possessions (horseless carriages) of New York’s newfangled stock-market rich.

    But before you condemn Robert Moses, when was the last time a traffic jam was so bad around NYC that people that people had to get out and walk?