News & Opinion

Jane Jacobs on the hazard of popularity

In Arrivals & Departures on January 1, 2011 at 8:55 PM

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In 2004, Jane Jacobs warned of the hazard of popularity on retail strips that form community hearts:

“Some community hearts and their associated street anatomies attract many outsiders and are widely enjoyed.  This is not a bad thing; on the contrary.  The hazard is this: as leases for commercial or institutional spaces expire, tenants are apt to be faced with shockingly increased rents.  Property taxes on the popular premises can soar too, instigating even further increases.  If zoning prevents commercial overflow, so much the worse.  The upshot is that many facilities are priced out of the mix.  The hardware store goes, the bookstore closes, the place that repairs small appliances moves away, the butcher shops and bakeries disappear.

As diversity diminishes, into its place comes a kind of monoculture: incredible repetitions of whatever happens to be most profitable on that street at that time.  Of course these optimists don’t all succeed.  Six of the seventeen new restaurants, say, die off rather rapidly, and five of the seven gift shops don’t make it through the next Christmas.  Into their places come other optimists who hope something will be left in the till after the debt costs on renovations and the incredible rents are paid.  But starting gradually while times are good, and rapidly when they aren’t, the street becomes dotted with vacancies. The old conveniences don’t return to fill them. They can’t afford to. All this is not owing to competition from malls or big boxes–but because success has priced out diversity.

A popular main pedestrian street running through my own neighbourhood is now afflicted by this dynamic.”

 –  Jacobs, J. 2004 Time and Change as Neighbourhood Allies. Ideas that Matter, Volume 3, (Number 2): pp. 6-7.

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3 Jan ’11 | Correction:  There are 11 sushi restaurants on Bloor Street West between Spadina and Bathurst. Incorrect information appeared in the slide show caption.  Our thanks to Fred Freedman for pointing out the omission of Mariko at 551 Bloor Street West.

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