Stuntman And Lover Of Cheese

by Dan Bostonweeks

Book: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

For my last birthday my friends Mitch, Deb, and Ryan got me the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. I had heard about it a little bit but only recently saw more pointed discussion about it on Jason Kottke’s site and I was intrigued. Over the last month or so I’ve been reading it on the train to and from work with the exception of a much needed fiction break. I have to say, Jacobs has done a good job of making sure examples are clear and understandable and going through and referring to them so that all of her assertions and statements tie into one another. Even though the book was written in the early sixties there are still many cases where Jacobs’ warnings about what not to do still apply. Some of the examples felt a little dated but at no time were they no longer relevant to explaining the situation at hand. I often found myself looking back on when I lived in New York (or forward to the few examples from San Francisco) and trying to see how things have changed in the intervening 40 years. Some things haven’t changed and others have gotten better. It seems to me that some city planning now gets the ideas Jacobs was putting forward and there is definite progress in making cities less sterile and more functional than previous planners would have done. I was particularly struck by the talk about parks. I had never really stopped and thought about parks as possibly areas that are detriments to neighborhoods, even though I’ve seen bad parks before. I guess that plane of thought is just from what has been beat into the public about what is good and what isn’t in a city. Ideas that Jacobs soundly debunks. map Near where I work (between the Mission District and Protrero Hill in San Francisco) there is a park called Franklin Square. I’ve never really thought about the park before other than seeing it from the street. Generally I’m walking on the opposite side of the street from it and when I do walk next to it I don’t pay it any mind. It always seems to have some construction and parts of it appear fenced off. There are also a lot of homeless people that hang out in the park from what I can see. That combined with few entrances (the park is on a hill so from at least two sides there is a retaining wall around it that is quite foreboding) and general lack of kempt make it a place to avoid. There is never any reason to go through the park even though that could be a nicer route were it a nicer park. I was actually shocked to learn from a little web searching that Franklin Square has quite the history and at one time was a well regarded park. I’m not sure if the park is used much now and honestly it doesn’t really look like it is well utilized, but it seems as though there might be efforts to rehabilitate it. It’s actually kind of funny because many of us at work have lamented the fact that there is no nearby park (but there is, Franklin Square) that we could go and sit in to eat lunch. Instead we end up on the much more desolate roof of our building. It has a nice view but not so much greenery or shade. Of the four sections of the book the first two seemed to drag a little bit, but I realized later Jacobs was just laying down the groundwork for what was to come, feeding fuel into the fire if you will. The third and fourth sections were the ones I liked the best. They dealt totally with how to identify what is wrong in a city and how to go about correcting it. cities are amazing entities that I am still awed at every day. Even a small city like San Francisco has it’s share of dumb luck, bad planning, and corrective behavior from within. Now that I’ve finished the book I’m going to see what I notice as I go about my life in the Bay Area. While reading the book I was also able to pick up on some good concepts about work and the way things should be setup and coddled as they relate to cities, but that’s a post for another time.