Monday, February 23, 2009


Jane Jacobs chapter “The Use of Streets: Contact” in her book Death & Life of American Cities tackles the issue’s facing American cities and towns and how the changing social environment is depriving local communities of necessary interaction and social growth. Jacobs notes if social contacts are solely confined to the privacy of ones own home then a city becomes stultified. She points to the need for interaction through the social life of city sidewalks which help bring together people who do not know each other and how the changing and lessening use of city side walks as a way of social communication amongst the community is leading to a time where one solely communicates with people we directly know and within ones own clichés or individual community’s rather than the broader community at large.

Reading through Jane Jacobs chapter and relating her concepts to the risd community one can see where her concepts relate to how and why our community interacts with each other and where we as a community are going wrong.
Whilst Jacobs concepts are true, some of the reasons for why social interaction has changed over the past 20 years can also be been attributed to the advancement in technology and the growth of brand multiservice stores. The evolution of phone and Internet technology made communication accessible from ones bed. Big super stores are increasingly taking the place of local stores with their financial clot and hard nose pricing. Fickle customers will therefore automatically turn to what is cheaper. In the US these stores are often located on the outskirts of towns where large plots of land are cheaper to buy and where accessibility by road is easy resulting in shoppers traveling by car to purchase goods or services rather than on foot or local transport which is often in decline. Subsequently this makes it less likely for one to bump into a fellow resident or community member.

Arriving from abroad one can relate to many of the concepts put forward by Jacobs, as they are the same issue we face back in England. Focusing on the risd experience it becomes apparent that the lack of local stores and services in proximity to the already spaced out campus can be seen as one issue with the main place one could relate to being Thayer street above the main campus. The need for real leaders when it comes to the social aspects of street life can be related to RISD's need for a real student union where the elected body of students represent the community at large and actively work to bring people together socially rather than on an academic level through social gatherings and activities. Such a body which in English universities plays a huge an active part in the student community is similar to what Jacobs states helps encourage the social aspect of city sidewalks some one who brings people together.

When it comes to housing Jacobs points to the lack of trust which people have for one another and therefore people do not feel the need to communicate with ones neighbors. This could be said for students living in many of the housing complexes at risd, with no specific place in some areas of housing in which people can meet communities often become closed up with people unlikely to just knock on a neighbors door and say hello. When there is activity or a social gathering of sorts people are more likely to communicate as they are in a mutual space where both have actively chosen to go.

A further issue is placement, for risd students it becomes apparent that students see the place of work as where they pretty much live. And therefore without a central core a central place where students want to go little communities are formed within communities as Jacobs refers to when looking at the formation of clicks within communities. While the placement of risd buildings is applauded by helping to rejuvenate specific areas in particular downtown providence, it has consequently created separate community’s with people rarely spending much time in the main campus across the river as there is little need to go there.

Active engagement within the community in general is a further issue which Jacobs referrers to at the end of the chapter. Looking at our institution risd we do everything behind closed doors, with only those accepted and those who can afford the education engaging with one another rather than the average community member. This is often an issue found for many institutions how to we work with the local community so that they feel apart of us rather than a part. For RISD, actively presenting what we do best, our creativity our work so that not just are critics can see or be apart of would help break down this significant divide between those who have the building access cards and those that don’t.

Ben Stevenson

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