London and other Great American Cities 50 years on

17th May 2011; 18:00

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RSA Debate


The RSA and the Centre for London at Demos gather a panel of expert commentators at the RSA to mark the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Jane Jacobs’ book, first published in 1961, transformed the way we think about our cities and helped discredit the then near universal belief in slum clearance, high rise housing projects and urban motorways. 

Building on close observation of her own Greenwich Village neighbourhood, Jacobs mounted a thorough and original defence of 'traditional' city forms against the dominant approaches to urban planning in her day, including the 'garden city' movement and Modernist city planning.   She argued that dense, mixed income mix-used neighbourhoods, designed around short city blocks with busy amenity-lined streets and small parks, had a huge range of benefits unappreciated by modern urban planners who mistakenly associated the old city with all the evils of the 19th century slum.  Jacobs claimed that cities could be great engines of cohesion, innovation, and prosperity, but only where they were properly led and managed.

But has her thinking stood the test of time?  What did she get right and what wrong?  And in particular what are the implications of her insights for London, the UK's largest, and most unequal city? 

Speakers to include: Anne Power, professor of social policy, LSE and author of Estates on the Edge; Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett professor of planning and regeneration, UCL, and author of Cities of Tomorrow and Cities in Civilisation; Councillor Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of the council, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Chair: Ben Rogers, director, the Centre for London, Demos

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