Before this week I had never heard of Jane Jacobs and never really gave much thought to the sidewalks around me. I would notice if they were well lit or if they were uneven, but never thought of them as the make or break point for a neighborhood. Safe streets help keep a neighborhood safe. In Jacobs writing, she delved into what makes a street safe.
The most important part of a safe street is “Eyes on the street”. If no one is watching the street, anything can happen on the street. One way to keep eyes on the street is for there to be a reason to be watching, like a restaurants and stores. People do not care to watch a street if it is boring and no one walks down it. By having something to do on the street, people will watch it, and in turn want to keep it safe. “Street watchers” range from anyone who lives on the street and has a birds eye view from above to a local shop owner who watches the street from inside their store. By having things to do on the street it will draw people which in turn draws people to watch the street.
But achieving “Eyes on the street” is not something you get with the snap of your hands. Jacobs mentions a story of a man trying to get a young girl to walk with him down the street she lives on. The young girl was refusing to budge, and people noticed. Local shop and restaurant owners then went out to see what the problem was and refused to let the man take the girl. People like Jacobs were watching from their building on the street. The people who were watching were people with a connection to the street. Only people who felt like part of the street community were watching. The new high rise apartment building had no one watching. So even though there are things going on below, it does not make for avid watchers.
Jacobs also touches on the vicious cycle of a dangerous street. It is a cycle of no one using the street because it is dangerous, which makes others perceive it as dangerous, which allows crime to happen, and it all repeats itself. I, myself am guilty of this. When I know a street is “bad” I don’t want to go down it, which further perpetuates the street being “bad”. But Jacobs gives no ideas on how to remedy this vicious cycle.
Jacobs gives us the knowledge to start thinking about how to create safer streets, but does not direct us as to how we can do that. Lighting and having people walk around it a lot are a place to start, but will not change the world.
(Pictured: A well used and inviting street in Assisi)