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THE SILENCE OF THE STREETS

It’s the rare observation about urbanism which one won’t find already made, or anticipated, somewhere in the writings of Jane Jacobs. It’s no surprise, therefore, to find that Jacobs was also one of the first writers to make a case for the functional benefits of narrow streets.

Like many of her arguments, this one was based on first-person observation of real-life examples:

“Narrow streets, if they are not too narrow (like many of Boston’s) and are not choked with cars, can also cheer a walker by giving him a continual choice of this side of the street or that, and twice as much to see. The differences are something anyone can try out for himself by walking a selection of downtown streets.

This does not mean all downtown streets should be narrow and short. Variety is wanted in this respect too. But it does mean that narrow streets or reasonably wide alleys have unique value that revitalizers of downtown ought to use to the hilt instead of wasting. It also means that if pedestrian and automobile traffic is separated out on different streets, planners would do better to choose the narrower streets for pedestrians, rather than the most wide and impressive. Where monotonously wide and long streets are turned over to exclusive pedestrian use, they are going to be a problem.”

-Downtown is for People (1958)

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