Questions For Jane Jacobs
- From: David Brook [mailto:dbrook@...]
Sent: Monday, April 10, 2000 4:04 AM
Subject: NY Times 4/9: There's hope for the future
Questions For Jane Jacobs
Joys in the Hood
The pioneering urban sociologist says the
suburbs are an interesting case study, but she
still wouldn't want to live there.
By MITCHELL DUNEIER
known as one of the
greatest champions of New York City
neighborhood life. Why did you leave Greenwich
Village for Toronto?
You know, I wasn't leaving Greenwich Village
for Toronto. I was leaving the United States
for Canada. And it was because of the Vietnam
War, which neither Greenwich Village nor
Toronto had anything to do with instigating.
I'm glad I was brought up an American, but I'm
not cut out to be a citizen of an empire. And I
like it here. I like the civility and
politeness. It's not a cruel city.
Was it hard to make the adjustment after life
in Greenwich Village?
It's remarkably like living in Greenwich
Village. People think living in Greenwich
Village is terribly exotic in some way, but
actually, you raise children, you make meals,
you feel very good if you can get new curtains
for your windows. So the neighborhood I live in
is very similar.
It seems that some of the architects and
developers in America today, inspired by the
ideas in your book "The Death and Life of Great
American Cities," are now experimenting with
new ways to build planned communities --
communities that look pretty suburban -- yet
patterned on mixed-use urban neighborhoods.
Yeah, I see those.
Have you been to any of them, like Seaside, in
No. I've just seen the pictures of them. But
where I think the New Urbanism will have the
most difference is in in-filling suburbs, which
we've been needing to do for a long time. Here
we've got all these existing suburbs that -- I
don't want to say they're no good. There's a
lot that they offer that is good. And people
are ingenious about the way that they use them.
Ingenious in what ways?
Lots of people who lost their jobs earlier in
the 90's were very valuable, skilled people.
And lots of people today have arranged to have
home offices. And one thing that has heartened
me is how many women in suburbs have their own
businesses, performing useful operations that
just didn't exist in suburbs before. Some
didn't exist anywhere. Some have to do with
child care, some have to do with making houses
better. Women have almost taken over the real
estate business in the suburbs.
And what did you mean by the in-filling of the
There's a lot of underused land that's kind of
a nuisance. For instance, all those malls.
There are too many of them, and they're too
boring. Really, buildings and other facilities
could fit into those places. This happened in
cities long ago: they had large backyards and
side yards, and another house would be put into
the backyard. You could get to it from the
front yard with its own little walk. Some of
the most charming places in Manhattan Island
are like that and have been kept. It's a very
old urban device. I think it will very likely
become a suburban device.
So you're in favor of these new suburban
Well, I'm in favor of lots of choices. There is
no way that you can make things by one pattern
and satisfy everyone's aspirations. And that's
a good thing. Suburbs are among the choices,
and there are people who want them. Their
children may not want to stay there, but that's
O.K. What I object to is that largely through
the compulsion of certain financing
arrangements, mainly centralized under the
government, suburbs of a certain kind have
taken way more than their share of choices and
In your new book, "The Nature of Economies,"
you use the example of nature to show that
diversity is an essential element of economic
growth. So what do you make of the phenomenal
suburban growth fueled by the relatively
specialized new economy?
You mean like Silicon Valley? It really is a
remarkably varied collection of services and
suppliers. The businesses that make up a place
like Silicon Valley are terribly diverse. The
place wouldn't work if it weren't. Everything
from temporary workers when places are growing
up rapidly to the venture capitalists that are
financing the whole thing.
What would you tell people who are concerned
about the effects of suburban sprawl on the
life of their community?
There's no reason why anyone should listen to
me on suburbs, because I don't especially like
suburbs and I don't understand them the way
people who live in modern suburbs understand
them. And especially if I were to give any
suggestions about what should be done with
suburbs. That's one of the terrible things that
happened to cities. People who not only didn't
care about cities, but even hated them, began
to prescribe for them. It was disastrous! No
matter how well they meant or how much they
thought they loved humankind.