Friday, 20 May 2011

Jane Jacobs' "Eyes on the Street": A Mount Royal Boulevard Example

The Plateau is one of the most densely populated areas in Canada, and Mount Royal Boulevard, just outside our windows, is a river of constant foot, bike, bus and car traffic. The noise from the bars at closing time can be pretty intense, but it's quite safe, as demonstrated in an incident this week.

Lee had gone out to mail some letters Wednesday morning, and was surprised to see a man running toward him on the sidewalk with another man shouting "Voleur, Stop thief" in hot pursuit. Without thinking he stepped aside, but the thief had to slow to avoid hitting him anyway. A few steps beyond, the man had to zag again because a woman on a bicycle was in his way. That slowed him enough for his pursuer to catch up.

By then, about 20 people had stopped on both sides of the street to see what was happening, and two other men joined the pursuer in grabbing the thief. Someone flagged down a passing police car--and others were on their cellphones calling the cops--which made a mid-block U turn worthy of Hollywood chase movie. Within a couple of minutes the cops had the thief and justice, presumably, was on its way to being done.

Jane Jacobs always insisted that foot traffic was essential for urban safety, as was housing that allowed people to see what was going on outside at street level. "Eyes on the street" was her tag phrase for the kind of informal vigilance that's possible in dense neighborhoods. Compare that to housing developments where nobody walks and nobody sees their neighbors or with high rises where the outside is an elevator ride away.

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