Monday, November 23, 2009

Obama on Jane Jacobs and cities

Not for one of our assignments, but I came across this the other day and thought I'd share it with the class:

It's a clip linked to from the market urbanism blog, showing Obama receiving a copy of Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities as a gift, and talking to a group of supporters in Toledo, Ohio about the importance of cities and how their success is linked to the success of the nation.

He speaks to the same point as Kenneth Jackson in his essay "Gentleman's Agreement: Discrimination in Metropolitan America" :

The major conclusion of this analysis is that no one city or suburb can alone do much about poverty and discrimination. If communities jointly support the needs of the poor, this can be an effective solution to metropolitan ills and disparities. In short, the histories and the futures of [cities and suburbs] are linked. Affluence and despair, in the modern American context, are as intertwined as day and night, as the wind and the rain. The New York metropolitan area, the largest and most complex in the United States, is really an interconnected job and housing market. If Wall Street investment banks lay off thousands of employees, [the suburbs] all feel the repercussions. Any solution to America’s urban ills must begin with the recognition that residents of metropolitan regions share common challenges. Few people benefit when inner city schools are dysfunctional, when public housing projects become armed camps, or when minority jobless rates are double those of the middle class. Similarly, city dwellers should recognize that on balance, it is a benefit to them if the region includes a variety of residential and educational options, including many in the suburbs. 


The “gentleman’s agreement” of the United States is the shared willingness to ignore or to attribute to natural causes the maldistribution of poverty and wealth among local governmental jurisdictions. The problem will not be solved unless the local, state, and national governments, encouraged probably by the court system, develop policies that can earn the contingent consent of most people. This is to say that successful solutions and conditions must earn the willing and active approval of the electorate, who must believe that other citizens are doing their share (pp 211- 212). 

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