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Public spaces in the traditional city. Is there another model?

Jane Jacobs in 1961, with 'The death and life of great American cities' explores, from the perspective of the concrete life of city dwellers, the relationship between public space and private space, between public behavior and private behavior, trying to put the emphasis on the role of urban space as an important device for social integration processes.

“Overflowing Panels,” by Sergio García Sánchez and Max and Ana Merino (2019)

Jacobs' thesis is that it is possible to observe, in some urban public spaces (primarily roads and sidewalks) with specific urban characteristics (such as in reference to land use, mobility and traffic conditions and with reference to the form or urban and building morphology), behaviors and actions of mutual trust between citizens.

In Jacobs' words and talking about the role of sidewalks in the city streets:"In a city street, trust is born, over time, from an infinite number of small contacts that take place in public, on the sidewalks: stopping to drink a beer; ask the grocer for advice or give one to the newsagent; exchange opinions with the other customers of the bakery, give a nod to two boys who stand at the door of the house drinking a gazosa; watch the girls go by, waiting to be called to dinner; warn the boys; have news of a job by the hardware dealer [...]. These contacts seem mostly trivial, but on the whole they are not at all. The result of these occasional public contacts at the local level is the formation of a sensitivity for the "public" character of individuals, of a connective tissue of respect and trust which constitutes a resource for moments of individual or collective need. The lack of this trust in an urban street is a disaster, since it is impossible to raise it in an organized way, and on the other hand it does not imply any private commitment"

What appears interesting in Jacobs' discourse is the forms of control in public spaces, the forms of relationship and social bond, physical and functional characteristics of urban spaces.

The problem is faced by Jacobs analyzing the relationship between private spaces and public spaces, between privacy and sociability in urban space.

If privacy takes on a meaning of confidentiality, of non-intrusion into the personal sphere by the Others, taking shape mainly in the private space of the home, sociability is characterized by a certain participation in the control of public spaces in the city.

As Jacobs points out, this is a non-excessive participation, characterized by a weak social bond that is not involving to such an extent that it has "too much in common".

The balance between privacy and sociability is sought after in a 'spontaneous and occasional collective life', which for Jacobs would be facilitated by a traditional nineteenth-century city model, if not pre-industrial.

When the only form of social interaction is instead represented by strong ties, for example in the case of parts of cities with a homogeneous character in functional terms and social classes (where the relationship networks are, as Hannerz would say, characterized by a certain segregation) , as in the case of parts of exclusively residential cities, lacking the commercial function, as well as in residential contexts homogeneous from a social point of view, as in the case of agglomerations of single-family homes for the upper-middle classes, public life suffers as a result as the sociability between the citizens and then:

"The practical result is the renunciation of exercising the most elementary public duties which require a minimum of personal initiative - such as that of supervising children - and of associating themselves in order to achieve a common but limited goal. The consequences of this behavior can be of an incredible gravity".

Are we still in agreement with Jacobs?

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