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Jane Jacobs on Locally Owned Businesses

| Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Apr 28, 2006 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

Astute urban observer and activist Jane Jacobs died this week at the age of 89.

Among her many accomplishments, she mobilized her neighbors and led several successful grassroots fights in the 1960s that saved Greenwich Village, Soho, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side from being leveled for glass towers and an eight-lane highway dubbed the Lower Manhattan Expressway.

In 1961, she published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which drew on her own observations of neighborhood life in Manhattan to deliver a devastating critique of dominant urban planning practices and a brilliant analysis of what makes cities healthy and vibrant. It remains remarkably relevant forty-five years later.

Jacobs wrote wonderfully about the vital role that locally owned businesses play in nurturing community:

“The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts. It grows out of people stopping by at the bar for a beer, getting advice from the grocer and giving advice to the newsstand man, comparing opinions with other customers at the bakery and nodding hello to the two boys drinking pop on the stoop, hearing about a job from the hardware man and borrowing a dollar from the druggist?

“Most of it is ostensibly utterly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such casual, public contact at a local level—most of it fortuitous, most of it associated with errands, all of it metered by the person concerned and not thrust upon him by anyone—is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need.”

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About Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and directs its Community-Scaled Economy Initiative, which produces research and analysis, and partners with a range of allies to design and implement policies that curb economic consolidation and strengthen community-rooted enterprise.  She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and also produces a popular monthly newsletter, the Hometown Advantage Bulletin.  Connect with her on twitter and catch her TEDx Talk: Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy. More

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