About Jane Jacobs and safe streets

Jane Jacobs… a woman pretty stranger to me. I’ve never heard about her writings, cause she’s not really known in Italy aside from a few group of experts who actually learn from her work, I guess. If you google her name the information you get come from American or “English-speaking” newspapers and webpages.
That is quite a pity.
I bet she could be inspiring for us, the guys from Placemaking class, especially for what concerns the alternative use of the streets and sidewalks. These are the very first elements you notice about a city or even just a small one, because whether people use them or not the streets point out one of the most important attribute (or the maybe the “bedrock attribute”, quoting Jacobs) that make a place worth-living: the safety. Obviously the first impression of a street also tell us of how much people care about the place they’re living, not to mention that densely populated streets has to deal with the presence of strangers who, just like their inhabitants, can be good streets-users. That matters too.
The writer focuses on so many aspects and that’s why it is hard to do a proper sum up. But there was something that particularly draw my attention that I will try to express. This concerns the value of an illuminated street, whose meaning is not what it looks like. Lights certainly leads people to put their “eyes upon the streets”, a sentence often used by Jacobs, because somehow it means that you control the street you want to pass in order to feel safer. Anyway those eyes have to be effective and have to be there, conscious that what they do is basically a sort of surveillance. Otherwise a light alone doesn’t really work. Jacobs used this metaphor to explain herself: “streets can be like that famous stone that falls in the desert where there are no ears to hear”.
In my opinion what is really important to get about these last considerations is a sense of repossession that the citizens has to restore with their personal contribution. However this is not very easy to do. An “effective eye” is someone who find a good a reason to do that…and there it is the function of the bars, the stores, or generally speaking, the attractions. These generate activity and once you reach this aim you can rely on more effective eyes.
Despite that, I believe that wondering about Jacob’s considerations is a good way to start thinking beyond the obvious and I have realized that now, every time I watch my town trough my car window or I walk around any other city. The challenge is to actually do it.

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