Viewing cities as spontaneous orders and not as works of art helps to explain the tradeoff between scale and order, as well as the role of time in softening the severity of that tradeoff. Complexity and creativity are at odds with scale and the comprehensiveness of design because increasing scale impinges on the action spaces where creative, informal contact tends to happen. Design might complement that informal contact to a point, but beyond a fairly low level it begins to overwhelm it.
Again, small is not always beautiful, and big is sometimes unavoidable. That makes it all the more important to understand the impact of scale and design on spontaneous social orders.
That applies as much to private as it does to public projects. When the designs are small relative to the surrounding social milieu, the downside of the tradeoff isn’t very steep. The problems start when budget constraints are soft and projects become mega-projects and mega-projects become giga-projects. I don’t want to sound too ideological – Jane Jacobs somehow avoided being ideologically pigeonholed all her life – but soft budget constraints are primarily the domain of governmental and, especially, of so-called public-private developments: Those elephantine-starchitectural-wonder-complexes that too-often strive for off-the-charts wow-factors. Without legal privileges, subsidies, and eminent domain, could the scale and degree of design of purely privately funded developments even begin to compare to those? I don’t think so.
The rules of the game of urban processes interact in complex ways. So deliberately changing some of those rules to achieve a particular outcome is akin to trying to impose a particular design on the social order, killing the social order in the process, although perhaps preserving the appearance of life. Taxidermy again. (That, by the way, is why I have problems with landmarks preservation on the scale practiced in many major cities today, including New York.)
I worry that we pay lip service to “mixed uses” and “density” and “diversity” without really understanding exactly what these mean and how they are important for economic development and liveliness. Jacobs explained how a living city fosters economic development and liveliness – for her the two go together – by promoting the diversity of land-use and of skills, knowledge, and tastes. A government can’t build an entire city (or neighborhood even) because it can only go so far in constructing that kind of diversity and the self-regulating processes that emerge from it. But in the ordinary course of its activities a government can at least refrain from doing the things that would thwart the emergence of the invisible social infrastructure that gives rise to that diversity, development, and liveliness.
And because I’m afraid they won’t refrain, I worry that when planners propose fixes for traffic, poverty, crime, discrimination, pollution, obesity, economic ennui, or whatever, they do so without seeing or caring about the things that constitute what Ken-Ichi Sasaki (1998) calls a city’s “urban tactility,” another part of the fine-structure of society that is the result of human action but not of human design.
So, I end Chapter 1 with this final thought: The more precise and comprehensive and accurate your image of city is, the less likely that the place you’re imagining really is a city. A city is not man-made thing.
[In this space I’ll be posting quotes, ideas, and excerpts relating to a book I’m writing (thus far untitled), which I might describe as “What I have learned from the economic and social theory of Jane Jacobs.” My hope is to get thoughtful, informed feedback that will be useful in shaping the book.]
Works Cited In Chapter 1
Gehl, Jan & Birgette Svarre (2013). How to Study Public Life. London: Island Press.
Hayek, Friedrich A. (1948). “The use of knowledge in society.” In: Friedrich. A. Hayek (Ed.) (1948) Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Hayek, Friedrich A. (1967). “The results of human action but not of human design.” In: Friedrich A. Hayek (Ed.) (1967) Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Ikeda, Sanford (2007). “Urbanizing economics.” Review of Austrian Economics, 20(4), 213-220.
Ikeda, Sanford (2010). “The mirage of the efficient city.” In: Stephen A. Goldsmith & Lynne Elizabeth (Eds.), What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs. Oakland, CA: New Village Press.
Jacobs, Jane (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage.
Jacobs, Jane (1969). The Economy of Cities. New York: Vintage.
Kirzner, Israel M. (1973). Competition and Entrepreneurship. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Koolhaas, Rem (1994). Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for New York. New York: Monacelli Press.
Lachmann, Ludwig M. (1978). Capital and Its Structure. Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel.
Lynch, Kevin (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Pirenne, Henri (1952). Medieval Cities: Their Origin and the Rival of Trade. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.
Putnam, Robert (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Touchstone.
Sasaki, Ken-Ichi (1998). “For whom is city design? Tacility versus visuality.” In: Malcolm Miles, Tim Hall & Iain Borden (Eds.), The City Cultures Reader. New York: Routledge.
Wagner, Richard E. (2010). “Entangled political economy: A keynote address.” Manuscript.
Weber, Max (1958). The City. Don Martindale & Gertrud Neuwirth (Trans. & Eds.). New York: Free Press.
Whyte, William H. (1980). “Small urban spaces.” In: Albert LaFarge (Ed.) (2000) The Essential William H. Whyte. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.
Wirth, Louis (1938). “Urbanism as a way of life.” The American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 44(1):1-24.