Planning Magazine

Lessons from Jane Jacobs's First City

Also in this roundup of planning odds and ends: TalkingCities on TikTok, a toolkit for shared spaces, and a study on tree equity.

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Jane Jacobs at a 1961 press conference in Greenwich Village, New York City. Photo by Phil Stanziola, Library of Congress.


Jane Jacobs's First City: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania

"The moderate size of the city allowed worlds to intersect easily through chance encounters," writes author Glenna Lang in Jane Jacob's First City: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Lang's new, painstakingly detailed account of Jane Jacobs's early life there.

Jane Jacobs’s First City: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania

There, Jacobs watched the city become overly dependent on its anthracite coal deposits; she saw stagnation and decline. But those years also helped generate her skepticism about megacities like New York City and Toronto. It's no accident she later championed "entirely new things being introduced into the economy by people who have been excluded in the past."

In a Scranton-sized city, argue both Lang and Jacobs, "Just two public high schools could accommodate all students seeking this level of education. Thus, these institutions brought together children citywide from a multitude of backgrounds and neighborhoods."

Lang's account acknowledges the shaky status of present-day Scranton and leaves readers to consider just how middle-sized cities can survive and prosper on their own terms, when local enterprises of all kinds are forced out of business by national and international conglomerates. Nor do they have to be big businesses; the coal-mining process on which Scranton depended literally undermined and destroyed houses on the surface.

Lang concludes that "Scranton gave Jane a lens through which to view all urban places."

But can that be true? In small and mid-sized cities in the 21st century, can anyone afford to downzone that field just outside the city limits? Can ambitious, questing young people resist the opportunities beckoning in larger cities? Where would we be if Jane had done so? — Harold Henderson


TikTok Challenge: Urban Design

Urban planning is going viral on TikTok, and that's due in large part to the account TalkingCities.

TikTok Challenge: Urban Design

Billed as "an introduction to urban design, city planning, and architecture" by creator Paul Stout, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo planning student, the videos distill complex urban planning concepts and history into engaging, bite-sized content aimed to spark interest in the field. So far, he's amassed more than 150,000 followers and three million likes, with demographics that mirror TikTok's: majority teens, young adults, and women. It's a great way to engage young people in planning, he said on a recent episode of the American Planning Association's podcast, and he encourages planners to embrace the platform.



How to Share Shared Spaces

Coexistence in Public Space

A new joint effort from Spur, a Bay Area-based public policy nonprofit, and design firm Gehl is encouraging cities to create shared spaces that welcome, rather than deter, people experiencing homelessness. Through case studies, tools, and community engagement tactics, Coexistence in Public Space offers new approaches to creating public spaces that support every need, from recreation to temporary encampments.


Advancing Tree Equity

Trees reduce pollution, help mitigate extreme heat, and offer a variety of other public health benefits — but across the country, urban canopies aren't equally grown. Tree Equity Score, a new study from conservation organization American Forests, grades 810 municipalities, 150,000 neighborhoods, and 486 cities on their leafy coverage. The resource also provides tips on planting and maintenance, pilot program info, and how to advance tree equity. — Lindsay R. Nieman

Harold Henderson is Planning’s book reviewer; send news of forthcoming publications to Lindsay Nieman is Planning's senior editor, digital strategy.