Living in Jane Jacobs’ Neighborhood

In the Rainey Street District of Austin, Texas, a stranger approached my dog, hand extended. “Puppy!” she shrieked weirdly, a piercing decibel, especially for the hour of day. My first thought is that she closed the bars and is drunk, but, she’s not. She and her friend are in fashionable workout gear, probably all ginned up on coffee and ready for some speed-walking.

Otherwise, relative calm prevails early mornings in my neighborhood when I slip out the door to take Ezzy for her walk.

My neighborhood is a trendy downtown bar district, home to live music, food trucks, drinking holes and raucous partying. But early mornings, it’s even better, with neighbor brushing against neighbor and work crews quietly coming and going, cleaning up what was left behind from the previous night’s revelries. I stop to put a beer glass on an outdoor table that someone has left on the sidewalk outside of Bangers and exchange hellos with the manager.

“How’s the girl?” Brian says. My daughter worked for him the summer before college. He wrote a warm reference letter on her behalf for a volunteer program she’s now involved with at university. When my husband and I stop in for drinks, Brian sometimes says they’re on the house and we trade stories about vacation and raising teenagers.

In the early 2000s I read Jane Jacobs’ magnum opus, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, on the workings of a great city. This 585-page hardback enjoys a prominent place on my shelf, standing proud though dozens of fuchsia post-it-notes marking the best of the best sections from my first read protrude like a child’s unruly tufts of hair. Jacobs was a long-time resident of Greenwich Village and she starts her book at the beginning, with the humble sidewalk, the fundamental building block of a city.

Read in full on StrongTowns.org

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My thoughts on raising kids in the city

The good life in the city

Published March 2006 in Comment’s City & Country journal

Choosing space over place, and privacy over community, hampers a healthy public life. It’s a condition driven by having too much in our private worlds. Where we live affects how we live. And consequently, how we live greatly affects who we and our children are. Decisions thought to amplify life often suck up our freedom and our energy to respond to the responsibilities of citizen, neighbour and fellow human being.

“Oh Mom,” moaned our six-year old daughter walking home from school, “look at all those poor people sitting in traffic!” I chuckled at her compassion for this strange car-bound population. What she does not yet grasp is that most families don’t live, as she does, in compact towns and city neighbourhoods where the freedom to walk everywhere is a way of life. While some families lack the opportunity, others have deliberately chosen not to live in towns or city neighbourhoods.

Mixed-used, pedestrian-friendly places promote a more rigorous public life, inspiring healthy community and engaged citizens precisely because, ready or not, face time with your neighbours is unavoidable. When your wall is someone else’s, getting along is imperative. These places often come with smaller, storage-challenged homes that confront America’s intoxication with material things. Also, raising kids in this environment encourages the development of city smarts and a respect for the unfamiliar.

More of us should be animated by an interest in places that serve people, in places that elevate the importance of people—the crown of creation—and encourage a sense of citizenship from the little tykes on up.

Go here to continue.

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