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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written in 1961 by Jane Jacobs. The publication represented a critical evaluation of the 20th century urban planning policy. In her book, Jane Jacobs argues that poor urban planning policies were to blame for the disintegration of several urban neighborhoods within the United States. Jane Jacobs focused most of her spiteful condemnation for the rationalist city planners such as Robert Moses who were central in planning activities during the 1960s. Jacobs argued that contemporary urban planning discards the notion of the ‘city’, as it declines the idea of people living in a community typified by stratified intricacy and apparent disorder (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

The modernist designers applied deductive reasoning to come up with standards that they would use to plan cities. Among these laws, she noted that urban renewal was the most aggressive, and separation of uses policy into commercial, industrial and residential areas as the most rampant. These strategy plans, she asserted, demolish communities and inventive economies by producing remote, unnatural urban locations. In their place, Jacobs proposed four generators of diversity that formed the major part of her publication. When combined, the four conditions produce effective economic pools of use (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

Analysis of Phoenix City in Arizona

Introduction

Phoenix is the capital city in the state of Arizona and the most densely populated in the United States according to the 2010 Census that placed the number of people at 1,445,632. Phoenix represents one of the largest and most advanced metropolitan areas in the United States. Additionally, Phoenix acts as the Maricopa County headquarters. Phoenix was initially founded in 1861 and incorporated as a city in 1881. The city has a renowned political culture that has produced several high-ranking American politicians and other notable people such as Sandra Day O’Connor, Carl Hayden, John McCain, William Rehnquist, and Barry Goldwater.

Planning, Infrastructure allocation and use in Phoenix City

The current state of downtown Phoenix is very different from its original form when the city was founded in 1861. When compared to the problems in other major cities, Phoenix has witnessed a combination of bad fortune, ill timing, and lack of planning, visualization and absolute civic vandalism. Throughout the analysis, the term ‘downtown’ strictly refers to the region from the railroad tracks and ending at Fillmore covering the area between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue. World War II and the Great Depression were the two major forces that greatly shaped the face of the greater Phoenix. These two events were responsible for the development of art deco architecture such as Luhrs Tower and Building. However, the growth of phoenix has been constantly bogged down by insufficient capital.

The low number of small-scale corporations and infrastructure ensured that downtown Phoenix never grew at an exponential rate. Agriculture was the only sector that seemed to thrive with hundreds of acres under cultivation and shipping of farm produce to other markets forming the main activities in the city. All these activities, no matter how small-scale, were happening downtown. Therefore, all the urban growth happened there including banks, radio stations, restaurants, bars, highways and hotels. The typical scenery in downtown Phoenix was an area crowded with storied buildings and bursting with business. Most of the pedestrians used the sidewalks that are littered with shops, bistros or other businesses.

The history of Phoenix’s urban development can be analyzed using Jacob’s four conditions of generating diversity. In turn, each condition will be analyzed with Phoenix being the reference point for all examples. Jane Jacob’s first condition stipulates that the district and its innermost regions should have several primary purposes: if possible two or more. In this way, the central business district will ensure that presence of people who travel on different programs and are in one location for different reasons may use several facilities situated in a common place (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

Phoenix City has met and exceeded this first condition in several ways. The city is the capital of Arizona and therefore, it is home to the state Parliament. Phoenix is administered by a city council comprising of an elected mayor and other council members. Other significant government facilities within Phoenix include educational institutions ranging from elementary schools to colleges, correction facilities for juveniles (Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections), Arizona State hospital as well as headquarters for other federal agencies. These federal government institutions in Phoenix include The Federal Bureau of Prisons and The Federal Building that houses numerous federal offices and courts.

In terms of access to transport infrastructure, Phoenix is served by a major international airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport located next to several expressway interchanges in the downtown area. The airport is served by major flights from Air Canada and British Airways among other showing that the airport is a major regional transport hub particularly for tourism and business. Moving toward the interior, public transport is also well developed with the vast network of Valley Metro trains and buses plying to all areas within the city from Mesa through to north-central Phoenix. Therefore, Arizona residents can take care of all their administrative needs such as processing tax returns, paying bills and solving disputes in Phoenix.

Second, there are more than ten major stores in Phoenix but a large number of them deal in food management and accommodation as opposed to mainstream commodities such as apparel, cosmetics or household goods. The variety of restaurants in Phoenix range from Mexican, Italian and Spanish where they offer a wide variety of cuisines. Gift stores are also a common feature in Arizona. Phoenix has a large number of recreation areas and parks. Many water parks are distributed across the valley to assist residents survive the callous desert heat during the summer seasons. The locations having the highest number of people include the Arizona Center, Symphony Hall, Chase Field, CityScape and Herberger Theatre that are all located within walking distance from each other. Therefore, Phoenix City would pass Jacob’s first condition that demanded all city centers to have multiple purposes and attract various cadres of people (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

According to Jane Jacob, the second condition to generating diversity is the system of having short blocks with numerous chances to turn into corners. Within Phoenix City, Phoenix is roughly separated into two west-east halves around Central Avenue that run through the city in a north-south fashion. To the West of Central Avenue are the avenues while to the East are streets. The blocks going further west or east, have one number higher than the previous (Martin, 2006). For instance, 5th Street is five blocks east of Central Avenue, whereas 12th Avenue is 12 blocks west of Central Avenue. Towards downtown Phoenix, the blocks are demarcated numerically starting from Washington Street (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

This helps greatly in finding direction through manual counting of blocks. However, traveling through surrounding communities in Phoenix might be cumbersome because there lacks continuity in the street numbers sequence that is common in the rest of Phoenix. The large number of streets and avenues is enough evidence that Phoenix has very short blocks and very many opportunities to turn corners. According to Jacobs, this was meant to ease traffic congestion and increase the chances for businesses to develop. However, Phoenix has failed to live up to this expectation in that its streets experience high volumes of traffic (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

In terms of the street usage, Phoenix has experienced conflict between real estate owners and city council has resulted in the development of new laws to organize the usage of streets. These changes had been proposed and implemented by earlier legislators. However, Jacob’s assertion that bringing city streets and districts to proper operation is an undertaking that may never end is quite true. As of April 26, 2013, the City Council was grappling to implement the state route 143 and University drive intersection policy. This set of restrictions sought to introduce maintenance sessions on the streets, reduce over speeding and restrict usage of lanes (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011).

The Necessity for Aged Buildings

Jane Jacobs claimed that, for a district to be diverse, it is necessary to have a balanced combination of buildings that differ in age and state (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011). She particularly focused on a diversity being stressed when the aged buildings were more than the modern and new ones. Jacobs reasoned that impressive planning designs intending to redevelop large sections of a city according to a central theoretical structure do not succeed because planners do not appreciate that diverse cities are organic, impulsive, disorganized, multifaceted systems that result from gradual evolution. She argued that a steady pace of redevelopment would ease maintenance of present interpersonal associations (Fernandez, 2008).

In a study conducted by King titled ‘Jane Jacobs and ‘The Need for Aged Buildings’: Neighborhood Historical Development Pace and Community Social Relations’, he attempted to examine Jacob’s assertions that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to urban planning was flawed, ineffective and failed to promote tighter community relationships (King, 2013). According to King’s research, it was evident that people living in villas and townhouses exhibited a higher social capital compared to those who lived in city centers. When assessing Phoenix, one can conclude there is a low level of association in the city mainly because of the sweeping redevelopment that turned the city into a giant unnatural and unemotional assembly of people. In King’s study, mid-century housing exhibited the largest levels of social relations while recent developments showed the least. Through this study, one concludes that the high rate of redevelopment has led to weaker bonds and relations among the residents (King, 2013).

Jacobs also argued that the combination of old and new buildings is necessary as it creates diversity in the sources of income for the city (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011). The situation in new buildings is such that there is the need to clear the construction costs and therefore, can only be afforded by high-income tenants. Conversely, old buildings have already had the mortgage cleared paid off, and their prices drop significantly. Therefore, they are ideal for businesses and occupants with smaller incomes. Therefore, the assortment of both types allows for alternatives and diversity. Certain districts that have this combination are more flourishing than other communities are since they have more family businesses that result in more public figures that patrol the streets.

In Phoenix, the city council and other authorities are more interested in demolishing most old and dilapidated buildings to make way for apartments and skyscrapers. Historical buildings such as the Madison Hotel and the Hotel St. James have been proposed for demolition to create space for modern infrastructure. The rest of the ancient architecture has also been left to rot and waste away, burn or destroyed by natural forces. While the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office exists and operates daily to salvage most of these historical locations, their authority and mandate is minimal compared to the real estate waves that are backed by severe economic times.

Jacob’s Desire for Concentration

As mentioned earlier, Phoenix is one of the most populated capital cities in the world. Basing the evidence on the 2010 U.S Census, the city was home to over 1.5 million individuals. The population is mostly white, but there are also significant numbers of Hispanics, black Americans and Asians. According to Jacobs, any district should have a high number of residents for several purposes: business, employment or even residence (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011). She argued that in the same way that businesses and activity locations must efficiently utilize their land, so must residential facilities. These dwelling areas should also present in various forms and styles. Population density can generate massive liveliness because of the large volumes of human capital and their connections (Molenaar & Chinowsky, 2004).

Since its incorporation, the city of Phoenix has been split into urban villages that were based on historical communities and neighborhoods that were later annexed into Phoenix. Each village was structured with a planning committee whose job was to cooperate with the city’s planning board to that each village witnessed a balance between residential and business infrastructure (Santiago et al, 2003). The committee also jointly focused on development and promotion of special resources in each village. Currently, the population situation in Arizona and particularly in Phoenix is encouraging (Fernandez, 2008). There is a high population growth rate in Phoenix prompted by the numerous job opportunities and raised standards of living. However, while this trend is good, it also creates other issues such as homelessness, slums and soaring rent rates (Wood, 2012).

Sections of Arizona such as Phoenix-West, North Phoenix RV Park and Maryvale have been categorized as slums that developed due to the harsh economic conditions that forced many people to live below their incomes. While the state is busy implementing redevelopment plans, the people in slums are slowly being edged out of Phoenix using economic techniques (Fernandez, 2008). This is because, according to Jacobs, the ‘unslumming’ process replaces low cost housing with more expensive and luxurious establishments that can only be occupied by middle class workers.

Conclusion

Jacobs noted that multiplicity had a tendency of self-destruction, specifically as one function becomes prevailing and increases rents to a point where low-income tenants run (Jacobs & Epstein, 2011). This results in less efficient usage of housing facilities, restaurants and offices. The growth of the global metropolis has seen hefty profits for those who contributed in particular functions such as dedicated finance or producer services. This has contributed to large increases in the costs in these urban areas that have relocated non-high end roles. Central urban areas are increasingly hunting grounds for the wealthy, deficient in the diversity of the public and functions that were previously there. From a Jacobsian viewpoint, one disturbing ramification has been the decrease in the supply of older, archaic architecture with lesser economic yield demands. Large numbers of historical buildings such as warehouses have been brought down, and restores, or else transformed into high-end structures such as condominiums. This has the effect of lowering the supply of cheaper buildings and reducing Jacob’s idea of diversity.

References

Fernandez M. (2008). Caro Speaks to the Spirit of Jane Jacobs. City Room. Accessed on 9 September 2008. Retrieved from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/caro-speaks-to-the-spirit-of-jane-jacobs/?scp=1&sq=Rockefeller%20Foundation%20Morgan%20Library&st=cse

Jacobs J. & Epstein J. (2011). The death and life of great American cities. New York, NY: Modern Library.

King, K. (2013). Jane Jacobs and ‘The Need for Aged Buildings’: Neighborhood Historical Development Pace and Community Social Relations. Urban Studies.

Martin, D. (2006). Jane Jacobs, Urban Activist, Is Dead at 89. The New York Times. Accessed on 14 May 2011. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/books/25cnd-jacobs.html?pagewanted=print

Molenaar, K. R., & Chinowsky, P. (2004). Construction Research 2003: Winds of change, integration and innovation in construction. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers.

Santiago, A. M., Galster, G. C., & Pettit, K. L. S. (2003). Neighborhood Crime and Scattered-site Public Housing. Urban Studies, 40, 11, 2147-2163.

Wood, D. (2012). Vancouver’s density debate pits Sullivanism versus the ideas of Jane Jacobs. The Georgia Straight. Accessed on June 11, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.straight.com/news/vancouvers-density-debate-pits-sullivanism-versus-ideas-jane-jacobs

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