Jane Jacobs’ Critique: A Timeline of Theater Developments

Posted: May 4, 2011 by michaelkarayan in Jane Jacobs

According to Jane Jacobs’, the famous urban building critique, She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful and moving critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950’s (Pruzan, April, 25, 2006). She states a misguided and untested field of study based off existing guidelines written by unwary planners is the wrong way to proceed with design. Along with these criteria, she has devised diversity requirements for the building locations.  The diversity requirements put forth by her are as follows; first, People must occupy a space in frequently in unplanned times (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 194). Second, Most blocks must be short in order for good car circulation. Third, the district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition so that there is a diversified yield in goods and services. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people at the location for a variety of purposes.

The first project, the Balboa Theatre, Originally designed in 1924; nestled in Gas Lamp Quarter Historic District right in the heart of downtown San Diego, California.

Jacobs’ standards are definitely seen here in this project, with its wide sidewalks, old buildings; being the theatre itself, a mixture of businesses; including a mall and other smaller boutiques. The only criterion it lacks is the greenery feature of the commercial environment. When looking at the diversity of the city at this particular location using Jacobs’ suggestions you will find that the first portion, is fulfilled since we have a multiple array of interactions involving people shopping, exercising, working, and etc. occurring at this single location. The second portion involving the size of blocks is certainly satisfied as there are almost three blocks that are in front of this one theatre. The third criterion which is also fulfilled is the mingling of old and new buildings within a given area, which this portion of the street happened to do evenly. There are three other older buildings in front of the Balboa Theater along with an older street lamp design to keep the aesthetic of the authentic city intact. The fourth criterion demanding the dense population of people in the given area is also satisfied due to the massive amount of commercial property within the area that offer overnight stays for tourists. All in all the Balboa theatre would pass with flying colors as it fulfills most of Jacobs’ requirements.

In the second project, the Sydney Opera House (1957 – 1973) considered a masterpiece of late modern architecture. The project has large sidewalks and huge walk-ability as the concrete pavement stretches on for hundreds of feet which is satisfies the wide street category. The mixture of businesses is good but distance is what makes this portion of the requirement fail, there is a huge gap due to the isolation of the theatre from everything else in the city. Looking at the Balboa theatre, the Sydney theatre also lacks the greenery criterion as there is zero percent of greenery on the project site. When associating the site to Jacobs’ diversity suggestions this project seemed to fail most of them. The first suggestion, of multi-use interactions at a given site, is not fulfilled due to a separation once again from other surrounding buildings. The second suggestion, about the amount of streets to make quick turns isn’t even thought about as this is entirely a foot access facility. The third suggestion, involved the successful mingling of old and new buildings, which this site failed as it is once again separated. The fourth suggestion, regarding the density of the area due to the commercial district, is satisfied by the massive foot traffic generated by commercial buildings a mile away. All in all, the Sydney building would not pass as it fails most of Jacobs’ requirements.

In the third project, scheduled to be built-in 2014, the Temple to Tai-Pop designed by Reiser and Umemoto, The proposal sits on a very busy commercial district at which two subways intersect. This project has massive sidewalks and walking areas as this is intended to be an exterior recreational area so the greenery aspect is also satisfied. This project does not satisfy the mixture of business condition as it is bordered only by commercial high-rise buildings. When looking at the diversity of the city at this particular location using Jacobs’ suggestions you will find that the first portion, is satisfied since we have many uses for this site. The sizes of the streets are bigger and longer so convenience of turns is not possible, so it fails this segment. The third being ability of mixing the old buildings with the new. In this particular area there are no older buildings, so this segment also fails. The fourth and final portion involving the density of population in the area is satisfied due to the large commercial district it is centered in. All in all, this building would pass Jacob’s test even though it did not pass some of the underlying key points of the city life given by Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs’ necessities for city living turned out to be an applied criteria that one can use like a fast food menu to judge a city by its buildings, environment and social interactions. Some theaters fit her description better than others but there is one simple thing to remember when thinking of Jane Jacob’s critiques, as long as you have a good balance of old and new structures; and there are a lot of people surrounding these structures, then that portion of the city will live to see another day and stay a head of the curve for years to come.


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