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Monday, November 11, 2019

Urban Renewal, Deteriorating Neighborhoods, and Crime

     In 1961, Jane Jacobs published a classic book, Death and Life of Great American Cities. Her thesis was that the old urban neighborhoods, despite a bit of crime, were actually good places to live and raise children. She was adamantly opposed to the urban renewal projects that bulldozed these neighborhoods and replaced them with high-rise housing. She felt that the old neighborhoods were built for pedestrians and that life on the street created not only a vibrancy of a living city but also a relatively low crime rate. She anticipated that the new high-rise buildings and streets built for cars but hostile to pedestrians would destroy neighborhood life and ultimately undermine the city as we once knew it.

     In many ways, history has vindicated her ideas. High-rise public housing proved to be a disaster for families with young children, and pedestrian life did indeed die in many central cities. As cities deteriorated, the bulk of people left or tried to leave for the suburbs. Crime rates skyrocketed. The only controversy that remained is whether these changes were the irresistible result of the automotive age or could have been prevented through public policy.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998 

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