Many urban planners have historically focused on positive interactions in cities. Scholars like Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte and more recently James C. Scott, Jeff Speck and Charles Montgomery talk about idealistic communities where everyone is safe because they are keeping an eye on each other. Jane Jacobs famously asserted:
“This is something everyone already knows:A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street.”
Jacobs argued for ‘sidewalk terms’ and ‘eyes on the street,’ small exchanges and conversations that promote public respect and trust. According to this logic, dense, walkable cities promote neighborhood safety.
These neighborhoods sound like they exist in a bygone era, when life was simpler, we knew our neighbors, people weren’t on their phones all the time, kids played outside because crime was low and the air was smog-free. Through people-centered design and transit-oriented development New Urbanists like Charles Montgomery hope to build Happy Cities. The ideal city behind these positive interactions is a communitarian one (according to Martin de Waal’s urban ideal types), focused on beneficial ways we interact with each other.
I’ll write more about unhappy cities next week, and how mixed up in the nostalgia and environmentalism is a denial of racial and class differences that lead to public mistrust of certain strangers.