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Many people view the growth and expansion of cities as a sign of economic growth and development in a country. However, unplanned urbanization comes with many problems, which make conditions challenging, especially for the low-income inhabitants. Planning cities is harder when the population is larger, and many buildings, streets, and social amenities have to be provided to meet the high demand. Also, the planners have to find ways of dealing with the growing population because plans made for current populations become useless within few years as the population grows. Some people believe that planning is important and will realize results while others opine that it is a waste of public resources, and in many instances makes life more difficult, especially for the poor. This essay is an argumentative essay discussing the contrasting views of Jane – Jacobs, and Le-Corbusier.
Jane Jacobs begins by discussing the grand plans civic and city authorities across the country have designed to make their cities more beautiful. From her arguments and tone, it is clear that there is no shortage of such plans, and that it is not a new development but something that has been practiced for a long time. Also, she observes that each of these ideas follows a typical pattern in which beauty and order are the main factors that guide the planners (Whyte 157). In her opinion, the plans do not always favor everybody, but instead are a facade for the displacement of many poor residents and removal of ‘illegal’ buildings. In her words, “these projects will not revitalize downtown, they will deaden it. For they work at cross purposes to the city” (Whyte 157). Therefore, her view of the planning stage is that it is more glorified than it translates into improved lives for the people.
In addition, she states that these plans concentrate on the physical aspects such as roads and buildings and ignore the human capital that is equally, if not more, significant for development to be meaningful. She observes that an exception is Fort Worth, which has put medicine, commerce, culture, and government at the center of their planning. However, she notes that the many cities that seek to imitate the arrangement of Fort Worth have ignored these aspects and only tried to emulate the infrastructural designs. In her opinion, such plans lack human interests and only have the outward look of the city in mind. Their only interest is to have beautiful, well-planned cities with green lawns and well-swept streets. Nevertheless, the medical care, cultural cohesion, and good governance are excluded. The strategy is counterproductive and is not development (Whyte 159). She argues that the main motivation for a remodeling of the downtown is financial, with reducing taxes, lower sales per year, no growth for rental income and impossible traffic conditions making the downturns unattractive to businessmen. The belief is that if these areas are transformed into middle-class dwellings, they could become avenues for growth of businesses.
She observes that with such a planning regime and such selfish considerations, plans are useless in making cities better. She states, “With such an approach, the results will be about as helpful to the city as the dated relics of the City Beautiful movement…” (Whyte 159). In short, she opines that current planners do not learn from the failures of past to make any meaningful change to the cities as they are repeating the same mistakes. In her opinion, the problems that make the downturn worth fixing cannot be fixed using the piecemeal and uncommitted efforts being used by the city authorities. Similarly, she says the planners cannot solve the problems of cities such as New York by studying the plans and implementation schedules of other towns that may have succeeded, for example, Paris (Whyte 159). Besides, every urban center has unique problems and challenges, and the solutions of one cannot automatically work for another.
Instead, she proposes that the only way to solve the problems of the downtown is to study them and understand their unique characteristics actively. The planners have to get out of their offices and visit these places and come up with practical ways of addressing the various challenges. They must begin by finding out what are the real problems facing the downtown before trying to transform them. For many of the planners, the immediate solution is to try to change the downtown into a form of suburban lifestyle, but she suggests otherwise. For example, the decentralization of services may not be what the people of the downtown need, but a more sustainable and comfortable way of living within the crowded area. Hygiene and access can be improved without trying to decentralize the accommodation, as there are suggestions that some of these areas are unoccupied (Whyte 159). In fact, she observes that the downtown tends to become denser and not more sparsely populated.
Similarly, she points out that it is wrong to treat the downturn as a form of a relic from the past, or as a section of the city consisting of those who have failed to embrace the growth and change that the rest of the city is experiencing. Instead, she states that many people are doing modern jobs who inhabit these areas and that new people are joining them all the time, with much growth in population. Therefore, to adequately address their problems, the planners need to treat the downtown as a modern issue. There are also other aspects that she wishes the planners studied, saying that they could have given them a better understanding of these sections. For example, the factors that make more people wish to inhabit the downtown leading to growth in population, the reasons why fairly well-off people live in these areas, the reasons the people seen attracted to seemingly crowded and unhealthy dwellings and why the best eateries are located in old buildings. In short, she argues that while planners look at the downtown as places of everything negative, many factors make them attractive, which explains their continued existence and growth despite the efforts to eradicate or change them.
On the contrary, she observes that the planners behave as if all the inhabitants of the downtown are there because they lack the opportunity or resources to move to better neighborhoods and that they would immediately welcome the idea of moving to better neighborhoods or changing these areas into suburbs (Whyte 160). Her observation is that in the real sense, there is a ‘street life’ that is productive and favorable to certain people living in the downtown, and that in the efforts to transform them, these positive aspects should not be ignored and lost. The failure to recognize them and provide avenues for their continuation makes the efforts to transform downtowns to fail. For example, she notes that due to high populations, these areas need more short streets to access the interior since the mega beautiful highways may pass several miles away.
Also, she notes that the factors that make these dwellings attractive can be studied and harnessed for national development. The rest of the country can also learn from the dwellings, but the superiority complex adopted by city administrations has made them lose such opportunities. In fact, some successful businessmen and career citizens reside in the downtown, and the governing authorities should stop treating the inhabitants as failures who have nothing to contribute to the rest of the city. The fact that such individuals have succeeded without the basic amenities other people enjoy means that they are more resilient and innovative than they are credited for. Therefore, her main argument is that when planning for cities, the welfare and needs of the downtown are not usually incorporated and when an effort is made to, the planners imagine what they believe is good for the downtown instead of letting the residents speak for themselves.
Jacobs suggests that the planners need to leave room for sidewalks, so that movement for those who do not use vehicles is allowed (Kasinitz 111). Also, she argues that there should be some effort to make cities safe and friendly, which is even more important than the buildings and streets that the authorities prefer. The greatness of a city, she adds, is not in the buildings or streets that exist, but the way people feel as they walk along the sidewalks, bearing in mind that most of the inhabitants encounter strangers as they move about. However, she points out that security is not the responsibility of the police, but of every resident of a place (Kasinitz 113). Nonetheless, she points out that most cities in America have ignored the welfare and security aspects, with Los Angeles reporting some of the highest rape rates in the world while New York and Chicago report a high murder rate (Kasinitz 114). However, with good planning and exemplary leadership, it is possible to attain a high level of security, as has happened in North End Boston (Kasinitz 115). She observes that in this city, the police do not bring the security, but fellow citizens, which has made passersby thwart any attempts to commit a crime.
On the other hand, Le-Corbusier argues that New York City is still in the process of development and that it has not yet reached its apex of development. He states that the ‘dead cities’ and abandoned sections of the city are just part of the normal evolution of the metropolis and they provide good memories and lessons about the historical path taken by the urban centers to reach where they are today (Kasinitz 98). In fact, he states that a comparison between the developed and the developing sections of New York are a testament to the growing city and by extension, symbol of the growth of the country. The progress has not yet reached its final stage, and most of the current suburbs will be the downtown of the coming years.
We can do it today.
Moreover, he states that the architects have not been perfects in the way they have designed the structures of New York. However, unlike Jacobs, he defends the defects that they seemingly have as normal stages of the growth of a city. In short, the planning and design of the sections, which no longer attract admiration, is as the result of poor design and architecture yet it once involved good quality planning that met the highest standards. Today’s superior designs and city plans will look obsolete and substandard several years ahead (Kasinitz 99). Therefore, he opines that architecture and design is a continuous process that can only be judged according to the requirements of the time in which they were drawn. Thus, trying to dismiss the designs of backstreets that were drawn many years back is unrealistic.
However, he criticizes the uniformity of designs in the city and stresses on the lack of creativity and originality in the modern buildings. For example, he says that the current trend of having very tall buildings makes every building look the same, unlike in the past when there were various designs in the same neighborhood (Kainitz 99). Also, he notes that this is symbolic of the ‘savage’ nature of New York, especially the intolerance they have for mistakes. There is an effort to make everything look perfect in the city, with physical cleanliness in all places one visits. Also, he laments about the lack of friendly features of movement and recognition in the city, with people using maps to trace the locations they wish to visit instead of more natural ways. Besides, the uniformity in the look of streets makes it difficult for people to find specific places (Kasinitz 101).
However, he also observes some positive aspects of the city, with the example of Manhattan where order and the numbering of streets make it easy for one to trace locations. To strengthen his point, he poses the question as to whether Americans are the founders of civilization through the ages. Besides, many sections of the world copied the American design, such as Greece and Roman cities, which were modeled “the American way” (Kasinitz 101). Nonetheless, he answers the question, implying that the impression that America is the leader of the rest of the world in terms of civilization remains a hollow proposition, which he describes as “that foolish idea” (Kasinitz 102). Instead, he points out the way the growth of the cities failed to take into consideration the basic requirements of human beings. Moreover, the railway projects led to the growth of major cities, which he calls “soulless expanses.” He also refers to the development of cities as something that results in “beautiful confusion” (Kasinitz 102). However, he concludes that all this is part of the normal development of cities and that it is an unavoidable part of the growth of the city.
The greatest emphasis he makes is that a city grows, and he uses the words “a city has a biological life” to describe the changes that take place (Kasititz 102). For New York, he observes that the design of buildings is motivated by several factors, especially the skyscraper which is meant to hold large populations, and which is a direct response to the scarcity of land. However, he states that it is “poison to the city” (Kasinitz 104). Also, he states that while the skyscraper is attractive to the traveler at sea approaching New York, he is confronted with the savagery and brutality of the city when he lands into the city (Kasinitz 106).
He also observes that while the tall buildings have come to define New York and many other American cities as the epitome of civilization, they are only a facade that hides the disintegrating society. There is a lot of poverty, and the old areas are neglected as the authorities concentrate and modernize the new areas such as Wall Street. The human aspects have been ignored, and the competition for survival has reached dangerous levels. He suggests that this visibility of sophistication symbolized by the skyscrapers is hiding the truth of a “dying city” on the ground. Also, he notes that the concentration of tall buildings is harming the environment, with no open spaces left for other purposes. He suggests that there should be legislation on the height of buildings so that only a certain height is allowed, and gives the example of Paris where such legislation exists (Kasinitz 109).
A comparison between Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier reveals that they both deal with the topic of cities and their effects on the human population that inhabits them. While Jacobs concentrates on the role of planning in the growth of cities and emphasizes the role such planning plays in the overall welfare of the people, Le-Corbusier feels that the process is not as important. He argues that the growth of cities is more natural and that even without the elaborate planning, the development would follow a similar pattern. Therefore, Jacobs thinks the authorities of a city should be active and should intentionally steer the development of the city, and notes that if this does not happen, there is the poor design of towns. However, even more importantly, she stresses on the human aspect of towns, which the planners have forgotten about leading to the problems that are associated with cities. For example, she states that security, medical care, and cultural aspects should be part of the cities’ planning process, yet the planners of many towns only think of the physical infrastructure when they make plans. Also, she observes that the citizens have a responsibility in ensuring that the human aspects of town are functional, adding that the police, for example, cannot ensure the security of a community unless the residents become involved.
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Urbanization, which is mainly manifested in the growth of cities across the world, is a sign of growth and business development. Many people believe that the social services in cities are better than in the rural areas. However, from the discussion, it is clear that the growth of cities comes with many problems such as the increase in poverty and development of informal settlements. While planners have mainly concentrated on the elimination of such arrangements, it is emerging that there are factors, which contribute to their growth, and unless planers consider them, it will be difficult to find a solution. Also, the writers agree that the human aspects of towns such as environmental friendliness, the provision of sidewalks, security and relationship between the residents have largely been ignored by the planners as more effort is put on the physical aspects of the growth.
- Whyte, William H. The Exploding Metropolis. London: University of California Press, 1957.
- Kasinitz, Philip. Metropolis Center and Symbol of our Times. New York: New York University Press, 1995.