If you care about neighborhoods and how they function, you probably already know much about journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs and her understanding of place.
But if you aren’t familiar with Jane Jacobs, here are a few essential facts about her remarkable life and legacy:
- She believed that places work best when they serve people.
- She also believed that the “experts” – the folks who really know how places function – are the residents.
- While not trained as an architect or urban planner, Jane challenged these disciplines and her thinking was later embraced within these same disciplines.
- Her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation.
- William H. “Holly” Whyte, Jane’s mentor, authored “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.” Considered the father of placemaking, Whyte spearheaded a revolutionary project that studied human behavior in the urban setting. His research assistant, Fred Kent, went on to found Project for Public Spaces.
May 2016 would have been Jane’s 100th birthday. Across the world, many cities hosted Jane’s Walk as a salute to what she championed: love of place, and observing how places function.
In light of this, here are five ways you can see your neighborhood with new eyes:
- Notice signs of your neighborhood’s ethnic roots (churches, memorials, cemeteries, clubs, or associations).
- Pay attention to the street grid and how main thoroughfares connect with side streets.
- Pay attention to desire paths.
- Understand and discuss how neighborhood boundaries (political, physical and psychological) are defined.
- Assess the quality, quantity and location of third/public spaces (barbershops, parks, libraries, museums, settlement houses, plazas, coffee shops and bars) and notice how they support the character of a place.
Suffice to say, we care about the original neighborhoods Saint Luke’s Medical Center served – Buckeye, Woodland Hills and Mt. Pleasant – and we believe they’re pretty special and unique.
Here are five efforts around place in those neighborhoods, supported by Saint Luke’s Foundation’s A Strong Neighborhood program strategy:
- Love Lunes Over Buckeye calls attention to the unique storefronts on Buckeye Road; Sidewalk Stories of Buckeye is an honest selection of neighborhood narratives, and Making Our Own Space/Making Our Own Stories empowers neighborhood youth to design and build their own public spaces, and to collect their own stories about the neighborhood.
- Neighborhood festivals, block parties, and pop-up programming – from the Garlic Fest and Larchmere Porch Fest (picture at right) to Line Dancing, ice cream socials and Theatre in Park – bring people together.
- Appreciation of local expertise with ioby (In Our Back Yards), theinnovative crowd-funding platform that helps bring neighborhood projects to life, rests on the assumption that those closest to the problem often know the best solution to that problem.
- Saint Luke’s Pointe campus and other neighborhood institutions like East End Neighborhood House, Woodhill Estates, Cleveland Public Library’s Rice Branch, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Fairhill have embraced their roles as community spaces and are engaging with the community in new ways.
- Neighborhood Connections’ Neighbor Up program and its practices are a way to strengthen relationships and nurture civic action.
I will end with this fitting quote from Jane Jacobs: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
Written by: Nelson Beckford, Senior Program Officer, A Strong Neighborhood, Saint Luke’s Foundation
Nelson was appointed Senior Program Officer for Strong Communities in March 2014. He provides leadership and oversight for all aspects of the Foundation’s Strong Communities program area, the grant portfolio designed to catalyze and sustain opportunities to improve social conditions, improve physical environments and promote healthy community design in targeted neighborhoods.