|Jane Jacobs in 1961, as Chair of the Committee to Save the West Village|
Whether in urban downtowns or neighborhoods, or in suburbs or small towns, local residents and businesspeople know instinctively which improvements will bring positive change. When they have the means to pursue those improvements, or when new people come in and make improvements that harmonize in scale and use with the existing place, positive change occurs. Jacobs recognized this and argued in favor of local wisdom and community visions over the grandiose designs of distant planners and other so-called experts.
Conflict arises when distant experts, developers, and city hall planners come up with schemes in which that local wisdom has not been brought to bear at the beginning of the process. Such schemes usually show little respect for the nature and built form of the community and then are presented at “public” forums, in what is deceptively called a public process. At that point, the plans are tinkered with and maybe an “amenities” package is added (a form of bribery to ensure passage even if inappropriate to the place). But the input of local stakeholders is nonexistent in the beginning and minimal at the end. This is when the total transformation and, often, replacement of a community occurs, not its genuine regeneration.