Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jane Jacobs and the Future of St. Louis

Urban planner Jane Jacobs believed that the best cities were those that stimulated complexity and diversity. Along with building crowded sidewalks, numerous neighborhood stores, and intricate parks, she also said that successful cities offered every citizen rail access to all parts of the city.

An array of cultural critics and writers celebrate and extend Jacobs’ vision in the recent book Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York (2007) and indicate that today is as good a time as any to think seriously and creatively about urban planning. In his contribution to the publication, Christopher Klemek notes that Jacobs saw “healthy sustainable city life as the product of a dynamic tension between government and market.”

We have been noticing aspects of the kind of “dynamic tension” that Jacobs recognized surfacing in observations of our own local environment here in St. Louis and the Metro East. In particular, the upcoming vote for Proposition M contains overlapping and conflicting interests of Illinoisans and Missourians, multiple municipalities, and market forces.

Citizens from all over the region will be affected by the outcome of the vote next, whether those citizens take public transit or not. Jacobs’ writings about urban planning provide us with a model and point of departure for considering questions about how light rail travel influences degrees of diversity and complexity in our region.

Jacobs’ work on urban planning and design, that is, her focus on the creation of citified architecture, neighborhoods, transportation systems and relationships, is certainly assisting us in considering how the design and operations of the light rail affects social relations in our own region.

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