Jane Jacobs and Street Spaces – Streets as public places

Organiser: Dr. Agustina Martire, School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast,  A.Martire@qub.ac.uk  


‘A sidewalk life arises only when the concrete, tangible facilities it requires are present. (…) If they are absent, public sidewalk contacts are absent too.’ Jacobs Jane, The death and life of great American cities, The Modern Library, New York 1961, 1993, P92

Streets and their sidewalks are framed by buildings. These buildings provide the important thresholds between public and private spaces. They are the tangible facilities that allow streets to be vibrant public spaces. If buildings fail to provide permeability, harmony and rhythm, the street as public space suffers. Streets are in essence public spaces and connect diverse areas of the city, weaving the urban fabric. Since the 1960s motorways and large retail areas have replaced existing streets, tearing the urban fabric and transforming the qualities of the urban landscape. Jane Jacobs’ influence on urban planning worldwide must not be ignored. She defended urban streets as the main spaces where social interaction takes place. Academia has strongly defended Jacobs’ position, while urban designers have been heavily influenced by her ideas. However, for some reason, many cities in the world still utilise modernist planning principles such as zoning and priority to the car, which Jacobs so much criticised. Frequently Jacobs’ ideas have been either ignored or misinterpreted. When it comes to streets, especially in redevelopment projects, the pedestrianisation and commercial zoning has broken the sidewalk life and rendered street spaces unrecognisable. This phenomenon has developed in different ways across the world.

This track will explore the role of the street in Jane Jacob’s discourse through the study of different cases of streets worldwide, trying to understand whether the influence of Jacobs is apparent, implied or expressed in the projects for regeneration or conservation of urban streets.