Welcome to the first post in Culture of Congestion! I’ll be posting quotes, ideas, and short essays relating to a book I’m writing, 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. – Sandy Ikeda
When I asked Jane Jacobs what she believed her main intellectual contribution was, she answered without hesitation, “Economic theory!” It’s been my experience that most of those who admire Jacobs for her trenchant writings and fierce activism against heavy handed urban planning and top-down urban design find it surprising that she thought of herself at heart as an economist. But a glance at the titles of her books makes this rather obvious: The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, and The Nature of Economies. And in her most famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she explains in intricate detail a la modern social theory what social institutions and norms enable people to discover and pursue their plans at street level, and how doing so allows the city in which they are embedded to flourish in unpredictable ways. She understood how creative innovation – in commerce, science and technology, and culture – is central to that flourishing. She explained, in a way that rivals or surpasses most economic theorists, how and under what conditions innovation takes place and how that tends to undermine attempts at central planning at the local level.
One of my motivations for writing this book is to make Jane Jacobs, economist, better known especially to those who already rightly admire her for the other contributions she has made as a public intellectual, and to trace her criticisms of urban planning and design and of various public and private policies, which have gained supporters across the ideological spectrum, back to a coherent social and economic framework. My second aim then is to highlight and develop Jacobs’s socio-economic framework and to show how most (though not all of) those criticisms flow from that framework. In short, this book is about what I have learned from Jane Jacobs about social and economic theory.