Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities represents a critique of 1950s urban renewal programs and a love letter to the ostensibly self-regulating complexity of prewar American cities. Jacobs, a staunch opponent of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier, turns away from 20th century urban planning models to look toward the “slums,” and the ways in which old mixed-use neighborhoods, through complexity and diversity, ultimately become safer communities than their planned counterparts. According to Jacobs, there is a latent “barbarism” in all cities that is kept at bay by maintaining an active pedestrian presence on the streets at all times, a feature which she claims is overlooked by urban renewal masterplans that strictly separated land uses. Jacobs focuses on sidewalks and their pedestrian users as performing the central order-maintenance function in cities that, though casual, is more consequential for public safety than the surveillance performed by police officers themselves.
According to Jacobs, the fear of crime is as dangerous as crime itself, because it takes citizens—who perform a casual policing function while going about their days—off of the streets. This argument would be recapitulated by Kelling and Wilson decades later to form the backbone of their broken windows theory: that unpredictable behavior and minor infractions in the built environment create an atmosphere of fear, which leads to emptier streets that provide an environment for increasingly violent and destructive crime. Jacobs, Kelling, and Wilson each describe the streets as providing public safety through normative behavioral control. However, Jacobs remains distinct from Kelling and Wilson by arguing that only everyday citizens, not police and special guards, can keep the city from breaking down into chaos.
The mixed-use and mixed-income developments advocated here and elsewhere by Jacobs, with commercial businesses sprinkled throughout residential neighborhoods, contributed to the ongoing gentrification of post-industrial US cities. Many of the principles espoused by Jacobs would be distilled and reproduced in New Urbanist projects decades later, including mixed-use and mixed-income developments built to replace public housing with HOPE VI grants.