Jane Jacobs is a bit of a hero of ours. An urban living champion, she was a passionate advocate of the urban cityscape as a liveable ecosystem, where bricks and mortar and flesh and bone met in perfect harmony. She’s being celebrated in a series of walks in our city (to mark the anniversary of Jacobs’ birth) this week.
Every year 500 cities across the world host ‘Jane’s Walks’ – urban tours to discuss her legacy and for the first time, Liverpool is taking part.
Jane Jacobs was a fierce critic of the damaging urban renewal policies of the 1950s, which were universally supported at the time (although, we think, with a tad more zeal in Liverpool). These included high-rise housing projects which she felt created environments that isolated tenants and became centres of crime, poverty and despair.
The walks, organised by Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) North West Young Planners will be held on the 2nd, 4th and 9th May.
They’re a rare chance for Liverpool’s top urban planners to explain how Jane’s work has influenced, and will continue to influence, Liverpool’s development (and how they play a large part in the city’s new
Strategic Investment Framework.) And, with Hope Street recently winning Best Street in the Academy of Urbanism’s awards, the time is right to take a stroll.
“Jane was a radical thinker who championed a new, community-based approach to city planning. Her seminal book ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’ is perhaps the most influential book on urban planning and cities ever,” Liverpool Vision’s Matt Biagetti says.
“Her thinking has had a positive impact on cities all over the world, including Liverpool.”
“That’s why Baltic Triangle, Hope Street and Stanley Street Quarters have been selected for Liverpool’s inaugural ‘Jane’s Walks’. They’re exciting and distinctive with an active, engaged community which Jane would have been sure to commend,” Biagetti says.
Well, yes and no. There is much more work to be done, especially around the Baltic – as crime rates increase, and transport links refuse to enter. Jacobs would, no doubt, look at the Baltic and mark the area down with a ‘could try harder’. Also, we see that Cllr Munby is taking part. Jacobs wouldn’t have approved of his noise-war. Instead, she pioneered cities which were interesting, alive, economically sound and diverse. Not silent. Not sterile. Not full of student flats, nor held to ransom by developers. Yes, Hope Street’s got it right, but we still have a long way to go.
“Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order,” she said.
During the 1960s Jacobs became involved in urban activism, spearheading local efforts to oppose the top-down neighbourhood development in New York City. Her efforts to stop an expressway in Greenwich Village led to her arrest during a demonstration in 1968. Jacobs’ harsh criticism of “slum-clearing” and high-rise housing projects was also instrumental in changing the shape of the city.
Meanwhile, top-down city planning here green lights more student flats. And entire neighbourhoods, such as Marybone, around Tithebarne Street, are earmarked in the SIF to become student ghettoes: in direct opposition to the Jacobs-advocated “mixed-use” philosophy – the integration of different building types and uses; residential, family, commercial, and leisure. A high density melting pot of noise, smell, diversity and vibrant communities.
Oh, and Jacob’s best quote: “New ideas must use old buildings.” We don’t see much of that, either, as Liverpool Waters gets the go ahead.
Yes, it’ll take more than three walks to convince us the city’s turned any brave new corner. But we do think we’re taking the first tentative steps. Which is great.
The other two walks will be led by community campaigner Gerry Proctor MBE, chair of Engage Liverpool and Andi Herring, project officer for Stanley Street Quarter.
Kim Cooper, Jane’s Walk Coordinator for the city, has been instrumental in organising Liverpool’s first Jane’s Walks.
“Liverpool has always been a city of radical thinking and embraces pioneers like Jane Jacobs who challenge convention and are prepared to say; ‘there is a better way’.
“An initiative like Jane’s Walks on the one hand is about heritage and discovery and on the other about generating new ideas for the future and is something in which I’m sure she would have encouraged,” Cooper says.