There are city-people and country-people, and these categories are usually very distinct and separated. City-dwellers often dislike the country-side because everything is too far away from each other and there are not enough store options or places to go. Country-people don’t enjoy the chaos of a big city and often find themselves lost and overwhelmed trying to navigate the metro or choosing which of the numerous sit-down restaurants to stop at. Jane Jacobs separates these two categories as “foot people” and “car people,” those who walk everywhere (city-people) and those who can only manage to get places by car (countryside-dwellers). People who do not live in bit cities can often not imagine what it would be like to live in one, while people like me cannot imagine what it must be like to not be able to Seamless at 3am or take public transportation to every place I need to go. The word ‘urban’ is difficult to describe because it is in part a indescribable feeling that one gets from being in a megalopolis, an atmosphere or an inspiration from the huge city skyscrapers. While urban cities are often affiliated with success, money, and opportunity, they are also associated with crime, homelessness, unaffordable housing, and unemployment. Just like suburban and rural towns where there are social issues too, urban cities are simply a more dense inclusion of these social problems causing everything to be more noticeable.
It is rumored that about 50% of Manhattan housing is low-income. According to the Complete Real Estate Encyclopedia, low-income housing is defined as any housing that is limited to occupancy by persons whose family income does not exceed certain present maximum levels, or in the case of New York City, where the rent exceeds 30% of the family’s household income. Not only is housing mostly unaffordable for people of color, but the areas in which people of color live are sometimes less easily accessible by public transportation, have fewer educational opportunities, and lack access to many economic opportunities and jobs.
Jane Jacobs disputed the myth that “if only we had enough money … we could wipe out all our slums in ten years,” and I agree because redesigning slums into posh middle- to upper-class housing does not eradicate the slums but instead simply relocates them (5-6). Take for example, Brooklyn, where property prices are now skyrocketing and Dumbo was recently named as one of the hottest new places to live in New York City. While searching for apartments in the Spring semester, my real estate agent mentioned that due to gentrification in Brooklyn, many old Brooklynites are now moving back to Manhattan where housing prices are actually becoming less expensive. It is ironic that those who were forced to relocate to Brooklyn because of the increase in housing prices on Manhattan are now being forced to relocate back to Manhattan due to increasing rent prices in Brooklyn thanks to those who find the borough a more chic place to live.
Where housing and gentrification are in concern, New York City follows as an important example. Unaffordable housing and gentrification in this city are about as popular as the numerous tourist destinations. Many tourists know of New York City as a melting pot, a place where people of all races and nationalities can come and mingle. The statement is true in that there is great diversity and people of all races, nationalities, and incomes can come to New York City and find their place. However, the idea that these diverse groups intermingle is not much of a reality. Every little neighborhood in the city has its own ethnic enclave, including members of a specific nationality or from a certain country. As Jacobs explains, “city diversity itself permits and stimulates more diversity,” in that the diversity both creates the ability for anyone to find their own place in the city but with the consequence that these diverse groups often remain to themselves. While this is mostly true, city diversity mostly promotes more diversity, because any nationality, religion, cuisine, etc. can find a way to be accepted in the city.
Public projects, such as cultural centers, civic centers, commercial centers, promenades, and expressways, created to provide “the right to the city” that so many people believe in, seldom help the city as much as they are supposed to (6). These public projects are meant to be public goods, goods that are available to everyone who lives in the city. Unfortunately in the city, public goods, such as transportation, are not always available to everyone who should be able to use them. The increase in cost of subway fare this year, from $1 to $1.25, makes the seemingly inexpensive subway ride a little bit more expensive for those who might need public transportation most. Unfortunately, these public projects meant to create a more equal opportunity city are often more available to the middle- to upper-class members of society who can already afford to use private amenities instead. Almost everything in big cities is unfairly more easily accessible to those who have money, usually meaning middle- to upper- class people. Not only do colored people get disproportionately policed, but they are also kicked out of their neighborhoods by increasing rents when rich entrepreneurs and investors think that a neighborhood is up-and-coming and has the potential for good profit.
I started to question what are cities good for to begin with? It is often discussed that cities are breeding grounds for more crime, a place where colored people have fewer desirable economic opportunities, and policing scares instead of instills a sense of security among people. Decentralists all have the goal of decentralizing large cities, causing me to wonder why I love urban areas if there are those who hate them? Famous city planners like Howard and Le Corbusier focused their entire neighborhood designs on ensuring that towns would be decentralized and not like the ‘terrible urban centers’ other cities were becoming.
Urban culture is like any culture in that it differs from others. It blends cultures from different neighborhoods throughout New York City, incorporating ways of life from all around the world. Although many believe that it is urban culture to ignore others and have a rude and selfish mannerism, it is instead very open. One of the main components of urban culture is the acceptance and willingness to understand other cultures. Urban culture is the willingness to challenge the status quo, whether that is through political protests and riots or simply challenging fashion guidelines. Urban environments are welcoming to foreigners and tourists, and understand the benefits of employing labor that is culturally aware and knowledgeable. Urban centers are necessary not only as international social and economic hubs but in order to create places that are open to all lifestyles and people.
Jane Jacobs – The Death and Life of American Cities