Courtesy of “Going Solar“, here are a number of extracts from an address made by famous urban writer Jane Jacobs, to the New York Motor Bus Association in 1958. 52 years later, her words still seem incredibly appropriate.



I swing between being incredibly inspired and incredibly depressed by what Jane Jacobs writes. Inspired because she is just¬†so extremely right, and it’s fantastic that someone has put into words exactly my feelings on what the problems are with urban planning and urban transport matters. But I feel depressed because she was saying all this 50 odd years ago, and what she said then is just as valid – if not more valid – today. I think that either she’s one of the most influential urban writers ever – because she was the first to raise many of the issues now preoccupying urban planners; or she has been completely uninfluential – because we’re still stuffing things up in exactly the same way we were 50 years ago.

I’ll leave you to decide.

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6 comments

  1. So many of the things about downtown streets describes exactly what happened here, unfortunately we seem to be very slow at taking up the international trend to reverse the worst excesses.
    I think we should be looking a substantially lowering the traffic capacity of the streets in the CBD, starting with Queen St, and the moving out from that. Combined with much better PT, traffic congestion on the wider motorway network will be lowered and the CBD will be a vastly more attractive place to be so the CBD will be better off. Totally the opposite thinking from traditional traffic engineering principles.

  2. Walking around the Auckland CBD you would forgiven if you decided that they whole place had been designed as a through route and not a destination, a place to pass through rather than stop in. Does Auckland really need a four lane highway for the main street?

  3. Nick, sometimes I wish I had become involved in this transport blogging thing a few years earlier. I would have raised hell over the Queen Street upgrade project.

  4. I wonder if the people who Jane is referring to in her speech who just want to build more roads ever get to the end of their life and regret their decisions. Even more I wonder if they would ever publicly admit they were wrong? Also considering that most of the people in the 50’s making the decisions would have grown up in a world where cars didn’t really exist and PT/Walking were the only options I wonder what made them so opposed to it?

  5. Cars were the flash and fancy way of the future in the 1950s. Oil would last forever, nobody had even considered climate change was possible, and the roads were probably not that congested. Cars were seen as giving people freedom like nothing else before them.

  6. Cars (along with other technical innovations of the age) were seen as the golden ray of hope, a way to escape all the problems of the city and give everyone freedom and happiness. Oil was cheap and cars just kept getting cheaper. People just didn’t expect congestion or though that good design would avoid it… the reality of the situation took a couple of decades to bed in as we shifted toward almost total autodependence and by the time that happened we were well and truly stuck.

    Jarbs, in regard to Queen St I first picked up on that when I was at uni in Auckland, it is sort of where I cut my teeth in terms of transport and urban design theorising and advocacy. I tried with submissions and a few letters to the Herald and did a page for Craccum, but if only I had some of the knowledge and contacts I have now…. I actually think if they were starting that project today rather than seven years ago the outcome would be a lot different, for example seven years ago Britomart was just a hole in the ground, the busway didn’t exist, projects like the Central Connector and electrification wern’t even on paper yet, there wasn’t a single buslane in the CBD and the concept of a shared street would have got you labelled a loony. Thats what I was trying to say at the time, that the pedulum was starting to swing and they should design Queen St for ten years ahead when there would be a multitude of non-car ways to access the CBD… and initially they did. But the buckled to the local retailers and a few noisy citizens and we have a 1980s main street for the 2010s.

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