A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 30, 2005
“Eyes on the street” (Jane Jacobs, 1961)
In her The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), author Jane Jacobs suggested that crime could be reduced by having "eyes on the street." The term began to be used by many neighborhood watch programs.

Jane Butzner Jacobs (born May 4, 1916) is a writer and activist born in the United States, but now residing in Canada. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in America.
Jane Jacobs has spent her life studying cities. Her books include:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-60047-7
The Death and Life of Great American Cities is her single most influential book, and quite possibly the most influential American book on urban planning. Widely read by both planning professionals and the general public, the book is a strong critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s which, she claimed, destroyed communities and created isolated, unnatural urban spaces. Jacobs advocated dense, mixed-use neighborhoods and frequently cited New York City's Greenwich Village as an example of a vibrant urban community.

Amsterdam Avenue is currently a poor cousin to the vibrancy of Broadway. Here are some suggestions how to fix it. The single biggest issue is to get more "eyes on the street" (a phrase from Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities) to improve the feeling of security in the area.

To get federal funds for urban renewal, cities had to find that the areas to be renewed were "blighted." Jacobs, who lived in Greenwich Village at the time, believed federal funding gave cities incentives to find blight everywhere, and she demonstrated that the "slums" planners wanted to clear were often living, thriving neighborhoods.

Jacobs also wanted to show that inner cities were not necessarily as crime-infested as people feared them to be. She observed that mixed-use neighborhoods had people watching the streets throughout the day, both from the ground-floor shops and the mid-rise apartment buildings above those shops. These "eyes on the street," she argued, reduced crime.

13 November 1972, Washington Post, pg. A22:
Old neighborhoods with their "eyes on the street," as Jane Jacobs has pointed out in her "Death and Life of Great American Cities," are "defensible space."

28 April 1996, New York Times, "Jane Jacobs: Still a Pioneer" by Paul Goldberger, pg. BR39:
Jane Jacobs let her great-aunt's manuscript languish while she pursued her own career, which included the writing of five books - among them "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," her powerful testament against modernist urban renewal and in favor or the casual, pedestrian and street-oriented life of traditional densely built cities. One of those rare books that have changed the world, it was to urban planning what Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was to the environmental movement, and it is arguably the most important book written about cities in the 20th century.

8 January 1998, New York Times, "Critic's Notebook" by Herbert Muschamp, pg. E2:
Nor could she (Jacobs - ed.) have anticipated that the eyes on the street, the natural crime deterrent afforded by a vibrant street life, would need to be augmented by police surveillance cameras.

7 October 2001, New York Times, Art/Architecture by Herbert Muschamp, pg. 95:
The feeling is not uncanny in this setting you are being watched. Security guards, surveillance cameras and other devices are deployed to maintain a hierarchical relationship between those who belong and those who don't. The result is not quite public, not quite private. it is not, in any case, what Jane Jacobs meant when she wrote in 1961 of neighborhoods self-policed by "the eyes on the street." There are eyes here, in a Big Brotherish sort of way, but no streets, if by streets we mean freedom to circulate. The Ye Olde motif of this fortified network of cul-de-sacs only heightens the sense of restriction absent from the city streets outside.
Posted by Barry Popik
Names/Phrases • Monday, May 30, 2005 • Permalink

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