Eyes on the Street: Did Jane Jacobs get it wrong?

In her book the Life and Death of Great American Cities, urbanist Jane Jacobs asserted (based on the sketchiest of anecdotal evidence from herStreetEyes Greenwich Village neighborhood) that introducing commercial uses into a neighborhood brings life and activity to the area.  This in turn means more people are observing events, and these added “eyes on the street” will lead to lower crime.  Nice theory, but some recent research suggests she got it backwards:

Focusing on more than 200 blocks in eight high-crime Los Angeles neighborhoods, [research reported in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review] found that areas zoned for mixed-use development had lower crime rates than those zoned for commercial uses only. Areas purely made up of residences, however, had lower crime rates than either.

The findings challenge the popular Jane Jacobsian notion that introducing commercial businesses into residential neighborhoods can have public safety benefits — the “eyes on the street” argument that informs a lot of new development in cities today.

The research comes with a caveat.  Just like Ms. Jacobs pronouncements about urban living came from her experience of a few blocks in a section of Manhattan, this latest research comes from analysis of crime rates in neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

But one must concede that Los Angeles remains something of an outlier: The nation’s second-largest metropolis, denser that many fellow Sun Belt cities and yet, unlike most Eastern and Midwestern cities, consisting almost entirely of single-family homes. These idiosyncrasies, not to mention those of specific neighborhoods like Highland Park, Westlake and South L.A. (formerly and better known as South Central), introduce a number of variables that go unaccounted for.

Next City has the story here.

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