Jane Jacobs on NIMBYs

…[When we saved Greenwich Village] we were called names for this: selfish and negative. What a bunch of negative people! But everybody in the neighborhood understood…

“Also communities that want a certain thing are derided for saying ‘not in my back yard.’ If you listen to ‘not in my back yard’ people, their objection is often to something that shouldn’t be in anybody’s back yard. What has been proposed should be done differently.

“I see over and over your [World Bank] emphasis on the importance of community participation, and I want to make sure you understand what traps can be arranged under its name…. This is vicious stuff, and under such nice names: community participation, power to the people, and so on. You always have to look for the substance of these things, not how nice they sound.”

– Excerpts from “Urban Economy and Development” conference with the World Bank, February 4, 2002.  Quoted in Vital Little Plans: The Short Woks of Jane Jacobs, Edited by Samuel Zipp and Nate Storring.

5 Replies to “Jane Jacobs on NIMBYs”

  1. Death and Life, p.208:

    What are proper densities for city dwellings? … Proper city dwelling densities are a matter of performance … Densities are too low, or too high, when they frustrate city diversity instead of abetting it …

    Very low densities, six dwellings or fewer to the net acre, can make out well in suburbs … Between ten and twenty dwellings to the acre yields a kind of semisuburb. …

    I should judge that numerically the escape from “in-between” densities probably lies somewhere around the figure of 100 dwellings to an acre, under circumstances most congenial in all other respects to producing diversity.

    As a general rule, I think 100 dwellings per acre will be found to be too low.”

    In other words, SE Division Street is Jacobs’ recommended minimum.

  2. Assuming a 200 x 400 block including streets, I work 100 DU/A out as about 35 units on a 100 x 100′ lot. But I don’t think a narrow (200′ wide) strip of that density achieves the result Jacobs sought. If you factor in the surrounding blocks at about 8 DU/A, it drops down to suburban densities.

  3. From what I understand of Jane Jacobs, she was a champion of grassroots community advocacy, repurposing older buildings, anti-demolition and certainly not in favor of demolishing affordable housing stock to build new market rate and upscale housing. She was the quintessential “NIMBY”. She understood the balance of cultivating a diverse and vibrant community vs density for the sake of density at any and all costs. I’m sure she would have approved of the Division Design Initiative , which is the epitome of community driven design. It’s a shame that the current, fanatical quest for density has blinded many to Jane Jacobs core, integral urban planning values.

  4. And I’m sure she would have approved of bald guys with glasses! Sadly, I guess we’ll never know what she really believed about the proper densities for city dwellings.

  5. It sounds like from the Jacobs quote above, that the Division Design Initiative’s call for 3 stories or lower, and especially when no useful buildings were being removed (mostly converted gas stations and parking lots), would not align with Jacobs’ views. Even the 4-story buildings along Division don’t give you enough density to achieve diversity, since they’re limited to a narrow strip, 100′ on either side of Division (or along Hawthorne, etc.). You would really need that density for several blocks deep, like Crown Heights in Brooklyn, to get the “diversity” that Jacobs speaks of.

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