The End of Eyes on the Street

Image via City Journal

Image via City Journal

Since it’s Election Day, how about something on a different topic? I wrote this piece a few months ago and was saving it for a rainy day that ever came.

Jane Jacobs talked about the “sidewalk ballet” of her neighborhood and the importance of eyes on the street. But her conception of that, one where shopkeepers policed the sidewalks in front of their stores and kept an eye out for neighborhood kids, it far away from what we have today.

My latest post looking at this is over at City Journal and is called “The End of Eyes on the Street“:

“The bedrock attribute of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers,” wrote Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs is revered as an urban prophet, but key facets of her prescription for how to keep streets safe and maintain thriving urban neighborhoods are increasingly being ignored in New York today.

Key to safe and thriving sidewalks is what Jacobs called “eyes on the street”: people taking an active interest in what’s happening around them. Citizen vigilance, she believed, was even more important than the police. Public peace, she wrote, was “kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.” Some eyes on the street were more important than others–especially those belonging to local business owners. “Storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves,” Jacobs observed. “They hate broken windows and holdups; they hate having customers made nervous about safety.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

What’s amazing to me is that at the same time we’re told we can’t do anything about things like a panhandler following my wife a block down the street cursing at her because she refused to give him money (which happened recently), or when we can’t stop mentally ill people from pushing people in front of subway trains and killing them (as happened yesterday at Times Square), we have immense effort being put into farcical items like stopping “microaggressions.” I certainly belies a lot of the rhetoric around what we can and can’t do in society.

from Aaron M. Renn


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s