In the last twelve months there was celebrated, in the majority of the cities of the world and with different actions, the centenary of the birth of Jane Jacobs, brilliant town planner and social activist that with his book “Death and life of the big cities” (1961) I change definitively the way of looking and analyzing the urban phenomena.
Jane Jacobs was born on May 4, 1916 in a small people of Pennsilvania in the USA and in his youth I emigrate to New York attracted by the vibrant and multitudinous urban life of this mega-city. There it began to be interested for the urban questions, I marry an architect, form his family in a simple department of Greenwich Village and it consolidated his vocation for the journalism. Having either any university degree or specific studies manage to be a publisher of the magazine Architectural Forum. From his articles I argue duramente with the urban development dominant trends in the decade of 50 in North America, those that were propitiating the growth of the suburbs extended with one-family houses, the worship to the particular car and the highways, together with the des-valuation of the urban traditional centers, the preference to the towers and the systematic demolitions of the former buildings and his neighborhoods in name of the progress and the modernization.
Initially ridiculed by the technocrats of the modern urbanism, she never gave herself defeated, could go on from the ideas to the action and half a century later there is claimed and mentioned in his speeches up to by the own one ex-president Obama. Jane Jacobs was the first voice of resistance and civil participation before the excesses of an authoritarian urbanism and deshumanizado tax of arrives down and that even today prefers the closed, rapid decisions and you unconsult on changes and works that affect the daily life of thousands of persons.
In his book “Death and life of the big cities” is going to rescue the rich preexistences of the multifunctional, compact and dense city where the street, the neighborhood and the community are vital in the urban culture.
“Supporting the safety of the city is a principal task of the streets and the paths”.
For her a sure street is the one that proposes a clear delimiting between the public space and the private one, with people and movement constants, not very big apples that generate numerous corners and crossings of streets; where the buildings look at the sidewalk in order that many eyes guard it. Absolutely innovative ideas for his epoch as the mixture of uses, the balanced density, the protection of the architectural and urban heritage, the priority of the pedestrians, the identities mires or the elegant design of the public space are a part of a doctrinaire body of enormous force.
Jacobs manages to demonstrate that before changing a city or intervening in her it is necessary to know her thoroughly and to imply it dealing where his vitality is, since she is used by the neighbors, who estimate of her, which activities realize in his streets, since the children play, that parks are good and because it has more public that different, which are the good dimensions and because; definitively to deal and to learn them to live through them. For it it is necessary to go down to his streets, speak with the people, deduce the wonderful studding of relations, links and contacts that a city generates between his inhabitants. His texts will be extraordinary and meticulous observations of these relations and experiences.
Jacobs defends the density and the life in community, holds that there there is the cura of the insecurity and the violence; to know the neighbor, to shape networks, to mix with the different ones, to greet and to return to laugh in the public space. His woman’s look also will be decisive. To recover the vitality of street is the key of his educations. The street, unlike what it raises Him Corbusier and the modern urbanism, is not a mere emptiness for the mobility, the street is for Jacobs a certification and complex social institution where from children we learn to socialize and construct community. If the street ends up by favouring to the car for on the pedestrian, the street dies and there it begins the end of the city. His systematic fight against the overbearing highways that join the city and triumph with all achievement to save in the fifties the first most beautiful Village, his own neighborhood in New York, and some years later to Toronto, in Canada, where it had emigrated to prevent his children from enlisting as soldiers in the war of Vietnam.
There he died in 2006, weeks before expiring 90 years. In many cities, for this epoch of the year, different NGOs they invite to honouring her realizing urban treks for vivenciar and to learn to value our urban environments. To walk and to enjoy the city was maybe his major passion.
Jan Jacobs was the theoretical one and a polemic activist, often labelled of ingenuous in plant his you urban. But today his books and educations have received renewed force I dress the failures of the old urbanism tecnocrático, autistically and arbitrary. The future of the humanity and of the planet depends having better cities. We know that to withdraw to the private space, or to flee to the unsustainable diffuse urbanism of the peripheries is not a solution and to aggravate the problem.
Our “quality of life” cannot depend on ghettos guarded by walls, alarms and private armies. Because of it we must return to look at the public space as the heart of the modern life; his design, his use, his management and new functions. To rethink the street, the square, the park; the woodland and the urban landscape, that one that allows us to humanize the public space and to experience the meeting, the exchange and the difference. For it Jane Jacobs continues being an unavoidable reference, to think but also and fundamentally to do better city.
Martin Marcos. Architect, town planner, Director MARQ-SCA (Museum of Architecture and Design of Buenos Aires) and Teacher To title FADU UBA
Buenos Aires. May 2018
Docente de la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo (UBA) y director del Museo de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Sociedad Central de Arquitectos en Buenos Aires hasta 2018. Actualmente lleva la dirección del Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo – MNAD, en el Palacio Errázuriz-Alvear.