No. 36 - Jane Jacobs on the Self-destruction of Diversity.

August 30th, 2019

I read Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) almost two years ago, and found myself flipping through the book again earlier today.

I was thinking of a passage wherein she describes how places that are celebrated for their diversity become places that are void of diversity. In the passage, below, she sets out how competition contributes to factors that cause only the most profitable uses for a segment of a city to continue.

This idea, as set forth below, makes me think of the importance of working in collaboration, rather than in competition with other businesses.

- Isaac Myers III


“The self-destruction of diversity can happen in streets, at small nodes of vitality, in groupings of streets, or in whole districts. The last case is the most serious.

Whichever form the self-destruction takes, this, in broad strokes, is what happens: A diversified mixture of uses at some place in the city becomes outstandingly popular and successful as a whole. Because of the location’s success, which is invariably based on flourishing magnetic diversity, ardent competition for space in this locality develops. It is taken up in what amounts to the economic equivalent of a fad.

The winners in the competition for space will represent only a narrow segment of the many uses that together created success. Whichever one or few uses have emerged as the most profitable in the locality will be repeated and repeated, crowding out and overwhelming less profitable forms of use. If tremendous numbers of people, attracted by convenience and interest, or charmed by vigor and excitement, choose to live or work in the area, again the winners of the competition will form a narrow segment of the population of users. Since so many want to get in, those who get in or stay in will be self-sorted by the expense . . .

Thus, from this process, one or few dominating uses finally emerge triumphant. But the triumph is hollow. A most intricate and successful organism of economic mutual support and social mutual support has been destroyed by the process . . . In time, a place that was once so successful and once the object of such ardent competition, wanes and becomes marginal.

Many streets which have already gone through this process and are at rest in their moribundity can be seen in our cities. Others, caught in the process now, can be watched in action. Among those in the neighborhood where I live is Eighth Street, the principal commercial street of Greenwich Village.”

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