Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

The Need for Small Blocks – 38th Street Station

Dateline: 4:37 pm November 1, 2016 Filed under:

The Need for Small Blocks is the title of Chapter 9 in Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” The chapter begins with the introduction:

“Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.”

Jacobs goes on to eloquently lay out how short blocks have a multiplier effect in terms of pedestrian choices. If you live on a long block, you are left with essentially one path to reach a major cross street. Jacobs calls these streets both socially and economically constricting. If blocks are bisected by more frequent streets (shown below), opportunities for interaction and commerce multiply.

Jane Jacobs 101

Jane Jacobs Shows the Advantage of Short Blocks

The advantage of adding a “new” street to the grid provides the pedestrian with four potential equidistant paths, rather than one. It also means a favorite cafe, pub, florist or yoga studio (something Jane Jacobs did not envision) may pop up on this new street.

It is this very Jacobean notion that goes in to the plan for a new street at the Lander Group’s 38th Street Station plan (shown below). By creating a “new” street mid-block between 37th and 38th Streets, pedestrians are given an attractive new path to the light rail station from 29th Avenue. Neighbors living to the north and west, including on 29th Avenue itself, will have additional paths to follow to get to the station. With new proposed commercial development and public plazas, the entire neighborhood will be offered more potential shops, restaurants and gathering places that don’t exist today.


Lander Group 38th Street Station Plan

Jacobs reiterates at the end of “The Need for Small Blocks” that short blocks are valuable for the “intricate cross-use” they foster. She’s careful to say that short blocks are not a panacea, but rather a means to an end. Provided the buildings that line these streets, and particularly those at corners, allow diversity of uses like little pop-up shops, then the relationship is reciprocal.

This is one of many timeless lessons and observations from “Death and Life of Great American Cities” that is just as relevant as when Jane Jacobs penned it. Our intent at 38th Street Station is to create that “reciprocal relationship” between uses, where pedestrian-friendly streets provide opportunities for a diversity of buildings and uses, creating a multiplier effect of likable places for the neighborhood.

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