André Ouwehand,  OTB Research for the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology,

Brian Doucet, Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Erasmus University College in Rotterdam,


‘Death and life of great American cities’ is “an attack on current city planning and rebuilding” (1961/1992, p. 3). Jane Jacobs fervently criticises Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, the City Beautiful movement and Le Corbusier’s Radiant City and construes her principles for great cities: a mix of functions, short building blocks, a mix of buildings of different age and a high dwelling densities, based on analysis of everyday life in the city and especially in the streets. Those four conditions should enable vitality and diversity, the main characteristics and qualities of great cities as Jacobs sees it.

She also includes a disclaimer: that she hopes that “no reader will try to transfer my observations into guides as to what goes on in towns, or little cities, or in suburbs which still are suburban.” She acknowledges that peripheral neighbourhoods and suburbs will often later be engulfed in cities and wonders “whether they can adapt to functioning successfully as city districts.” (ibid., p. 16). But in her quest to criticize modern planning, she does not only pose the question about the functioning of the suburbs, but also answers it and could not hide that she loathed them and so did a lot of her followers. She met a lot of adherence, but also criticism, for instance of Herbert Gans who questioned her preference for a rather working class/bohemian way of life and not taking in account the preference of the middle class. He also questioned whether visibility is the only measure of vitality (Gans 1991/1962).

Nowadays we see that (still) a lot of the suburbs that were despised, are popular residential districts, with more diversity than we obviously would presume. We also see that many neighbourhoods which adhere to Jacobs’ principles are gentrified and some of the most desirable (and expensive) parts of cities. While Jacobs was not an advocate of gentrification, her principles have become so valued that in many cities, living in these neighbourhoods has become an elite privilege.

In this workshop we welcome papers that use Jane Jacobs’ tools of looking at everyday life to analyse the functioning of neighbourhoods, the way her ideas influence gentrification and neighbourhood change. In addition to traditional urban areas, we are also interested in (former) suburbs and papers that analyse the way neighbourhoods adapt to changes in society and are adaptive for different ways of life.


Gans, H.J. (1991/1962) Urban vitality and the fallacy of physical determinism. In: H.J. Gans (1991) People, plans and policies. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 33-43
Jacobs, J. (1992/1961) The death and life of great American cities. New York: Vintage Books