Jacobs

Jacobs - JANE JACOBS Random House-New York The Valuable...

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Unformatted text preview: JANE JACOBS Random House -New York The Valuable Inefficieneies and. Iiiipraeticalities of Cities Peoplc who think We would be better off without Cities, especially without big, unmanageable, disorderly cities, never tire of explaining that cities grown too big are, in any case, inefficient and impracrical. Certainly, we all knmy, the most routine and ordinary aetivities--—getting peopie to work, moving goods around, keeping trees alive, making space for school playgrounds, disposing of garbage absorb ridiculous amounts of energy, time and money in cities, as compared to towns and v llages. And it does seen! as if big cities are. not necessarily efficient for producing goods and services. Factories ITIUVC to the outskirts; and the suburbs, and to small .ind distant towns, often for reasons; of eilieiency. All this is true. (Iitiea are indeed inefficient and im— practical coinpared with towns; and among cities them" selves. the largest and most rapidly growing at any given 86'i'I'Hi-1 ECONOMY o [r CITIES time are apt to be the least efficient. But I propose to argue that these grave and real deficiencies are necessary to economic development and thus are exactly what make cities uniquely valuable to economic life. By this, I do not mean that cities are economically Valuable in spite of their inefficiency and impracticality but rather because they are incfiieient and impractical. Now that we understand how new work arises upon older work, we are in a position to understand this paradox, Efficient Manchester, Inefficient Birmingham Let us begin by examining city inefficiency from the point of view of two English manufacturing cities, h-"lanches— ter and Birmingham. Back in 184.4,, a character in one of Disraeli’s novels said, “Certainly Pilanchester is the most Wonderful city of modern times. It is the philosopher alone who can conceive the grandeur of Manchester and the immensity of its future.” The remark, says the city historian, Asa Briggs, in Victorian Cities, was repre- sentative of “most contemporary social comment." Man- chester, of course, also occupies a very special place in economic history because Marx and Engels were so greatly interested in it. .I\-'lar_\' based much of his analysis of capitalism and its class struggles upon .I\-'Iam:hester. i-le. like Disraeli, saw it as a prophetic city, although ominous in its prophecy rather than grand. What impressed Disraeli. Marx and their contemporaries, and what made ll-lanehester seem to them--- for better or worsc——the most advanced of all cities of the time was the stunning efficiency of its immense textile mills. The mills were Manchester. By the [840s their work don'iinated the. city completely. Here, it seemed, was the meaning of the industrial revolution, arrived at its logical conclusions. Here was the coming thing. Here was the kind of city that made all other cities cild-fasltinned—vestiges of an industri— ally undeveloped past. Ihe Valuable lnefiieieneies and lmpraeticalities of Cities [ 8 7 liven tbose observers and commentators-1 and there were many of them1 who were appalled by tie sordid liv- ing conditions and terrible death rates of i'vlanchestet, and those who saw, as Marx and Engels did, low immense and ominous was the social and economic gulf between the few mill owners and their poor and htpeless masses of workers, even they believed that the terrible effi— ciency of h'lztiicliester was a portent of the cities of the future—if not all cities, at least capitalist cities. Birmingham was inst the kind of city thu: seemed to have been outmoded by Manchester. “it was always a peculiarity of Birmingham," wrote a London journalist of the [850s whom Briggs quotes, “that small household trades existed which gave the inmates independence and often led----if the trade continued good—ttl- competence or fortune.” Briggs adds that these endeavors often led to failure too. Birmingham had a few relatively large industries, al— though nothing remoter approaching the scale of Man— chester’s, and even these accounted for only a small part of Birmingham‘s total output of work and total em— ployment. Most of Birmingham’s inatnifaettr'ing was car-- ried out in small organizations employng to more than a dozen workmen; many had even fewer. 5'1 lot of these little organizatimis did hits and pieces of work for other little organizations. The); were not rationrll}; and elli— cientlv consolidated. There Was a lot of waste motion, overlapping work, duplication that could certainly have been eliminated through consolidations. Furraertnore, ahle workmen were forever breaking away frtin their em- ployers in Birmingham and setting up fr-r themselves. compounding the fragmentation of work there. it was also a little hard to say just what Birmingham was living on because it had no obvious sp :cialty of the kind that made :‘vlanchester’s economy so easy to under— stand and so impressive. To try to describe Birmingham’s econon then (or now) is not easy. It was a muddle of 88:,l'i'nrtecoN01s-1Y or own-:5 oddnients. In the old days, saddle and harness making seems to have been the chief industry, but all sorts of other hardware and tool manufacturing had been added to the manufacture of hardware for saddles and hat— nesses. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the city had enjoyed a large trade in shoe buckles, but the. shoelace put an end to that. A rising hutton industry had more than compensated for the loss. Some of the button makers. used glass decoratively and this had af- forded opportunity to makers of bits and pieces of col- ored glass who, working from this foothold, had managed to build up a considerable local glass industry. in the nineteenth century, Birmingham was also making, among other things, guns, jewelry, cheap trinkets and papier-A mfiché trays. The work of making cheap metal toys led to making cheap steel penpoints. The work of making guns afforded opportunities for making titling machines and other machine tools. All this, of course, was just the'sort of old—fasl‘tioned muddling that people in England of the 184m; antl [850.9 were accustomed to see going on in cities. It was not modern. It was not an expression of the new age. it at— forded no particular new portents, either terrible or grand. At the time of all the intellectual excitement: about Manchester, nobody was nominating Birmingham as the city of the future. But as it turned out Manches- ter was not the city of the future and Birmingham was. A-“Irinchester’s efficient specializatitm portended stagna- tion and a profoundly obsolescent city. For I‘the im— mensity" of its future” proved to consist of immense. losses of its markets as other people in other places learned how to spin and weave. cotton efficiently too. h-‘lanchester developed nothing suflicient to compensate for these lost markets. Today it has become the vet},r sym— bol of a cit)r in long and unremitting decline. Its idle- ness and underemployment and the hardships of its people Would be much greater than they are, were it not. The Valuable Inefficiencies and linpraeticalities of Cities [' 8 9 for the migration of young people, decade after decade and generation after generation, to London. Birmingham and overseas cities in search of more opportunity. The economy of Birmingham did not become obsolete, like Manchester’s. [ts fragmented and inefficient little industries kept adding new worlt, and splitting off new organizations, some of which have become very large but are still out— weighed in total employment and production by the many small ones. Today, only two cities in all of Britain remain economi- cally vigorous and prosperous. One is London. The second is Birmingham. The others have stagnated one by one, much as Manchester did, like so many lights going out. British town planners, ironically, have regarded Lorzdon and Bir— mingham as problems, because they are places in which nnlch new work is added to old and thus cities that persist in growing. The British New Towns policy “as specifically devised to discourage the growth of London and Birming- ham and “drain it off.” Birmingham’s economy has re— mained alive and has kept up to date. Manchester’s has not. Was Manchester, then, really efficient? [t was indeed efficient and Birmingham was not. Manchister had ac— quired the efficiency of a company town. Birmingham had retained something different: a high rate of devel— opment work. Efficiency as it is commonly defined--—-and I do not pro— pose to change its definition, which is clear and useful-—--- is the ratio of work accomplished to energy supplied. VVC can speak of high or low rates of efficiency because, in any given instance, we have two relevant factors to measure: input of energy, and quantity and quality (value) of work accomplished. we can compare the measurements in one instance with measurements in other instances. Manchester turned out a great deal of cloth relative to the energy supplied by its workers anti hy those who served the needs of the workers in the city. 9()_]'I'HBECONOJ\1Y or CITIES But these particular measurements are not relevant when development work is wanted. A candy manufacturer, reminiscing to 3 Near- Yorker reporter about. the first candy bar he developed as a shipping clerk in a candy factory, recalls, “I showed it to my boss and he was very happy. ‘llo'w many of these can you make in a iniuute?’ he asked me. ‘In a minute?’ I said. ‘It took me four months to make this one!” Suppose it had taken him eight months? Or two months? That measurement has nothing to do with the operating efliciency envisioned by his boss. Efficiency of operation, in any given case, is a sequel to earlier development work. Development work is a messy, time— and encrg}-’-consllining business of trial, error and failure. The only certainties in it are trial and error. Success is not a certainty. And even when the result is suc- cessful, it is often a surprise, not what was actually being sought. A low rate of efi‘icieney in production work means that the person or organization doing the work is going about it ineptly. But the exorbitant amounts of energy and tll'l'lC and the high rates of failure in the process of developing new work do not mean the development work is being done ineptly. The inefficiency is built into the aim itself; it is inescapable. There is no systematic way to evade it. The president of du Pout, a company that has tried to systcniatize its development work to the highest degree possible, has told a Forttine reporter that only about one out of twenty of those research projects that the company decides to develop further after initial ex- ploratory work turns out to be useful to the company. The fact that an organization engages in large—scale pro- dtlction, which is what makes a large organization large, and that it produces very efficiently too, does not mean that the efficiency spills over into development work. Indeed, development work is inherently so chancy that by the law of averages, chances of success are greatly in]w proved if there is much duplication of effort. The US. The Valuable Inet‘fieiencies and Inipractiealitics of Cities [91 Air Force’s analytical organization, the Rand Corporation, having been assigned to study how waste could be elim- inated in the processes of military develtiprnent Work. came to the conclusion that although duplication of ef— fort was theoretically wasteful, it was not wasteful em- pirically. For one thing, the report said, different people brought different preconceptions to development Work and there was no way of telling in advance which might prove fruitful or where it might lead. Eminence or repu— tation or even past success was not a reliable indicator. The report cited, as an illustration, the fact that in 1937 when the airplane engine had already been developed in Britain (largely in Binningham, as it happens), a com— mittee of distinguished aeronautical experts in the United States, to whom this event was not yet known, having studied the possibilities of jet propulsion, came to the conclusion that it was not practicable. it was their recom— mendation that attempts to develop jet propulsion be dropped. The Rand researchers said that they had found definite waste, and a lot of it, in the development work of the military cstablislunents; it was the great waste of administrative man—hours and energy devoted to trying to eliminate duplicated effort. Just so, when Pasteur, that wise old man, begged for enlarged support of the biologi— cal sciences, he begged for multiplication of laboratories. The shorthand formula that I used in the preceding chapter to summarize the process by which work multi- plies whcn a new activity is added to an older division of labor, l) + A —) 11!), looks rather neat ani tidy. The tidiness is deceptive. It leaves out the trial and error, which is always there in real life. How many brissieres did Mrs. Rosenthal experiment with before she got the one she manufactured? The formula needs a TE in it, for trial and error: D —l- nTE 91—) iii). Even so, the for— mula holds true only when there is a succeszui end result that is put into production, yielding its new divisions of labor. When an attempt to add new work to -)ld is tried, .172" =3.-::r.:..-:z;=‘-‘mr:: 92—] THE ECUNUNIY 0F CITIES experimented with, and does not work out, We get only D+nTE What was going on in Birmingham at a great rate, as opposed to Manchester, was much trial and error, some— times leading to successful new activities and sometimes not. In effect, the city contained a great collection of mundane development laboratories. This fact was not ob— vious because the “laboratories” were also doing produc- tion work. Viewing the city’s economy as a whole, one can think of it as a great, confused economic labora- tory, supporting itself by its own production. Of course, taken as a whole, it was also inefficient. Manchester’s staggering productivity and efficiency were not so unprecedented as the observers of the {84% thought. The machines were new, but history records a multitude of cities that poured their economic energy into repetitions of the same work with immense efficiency and which put no energy, or almost none, into development of new goods and services. Coventry had done this, also with textiles, in medieval times. Medieval Europe had an odd word, di‘nnnderie, for brass vessels. Dinant, in the Lowlands, one of the most important and prosperous of medieval cities, had made such a success with its brass kettles and pots that, like Manchester, it had specialiZed merer in repeating its success. Dinant was extraordinarily productive—for a while. At least as long ago as 2,500 1;.c. there were cities of “terrible efficiency,” according to the areheologist Stuart Piggott in Prehistoric indie. He was referringr to Moheujo-daro and Harappa, the twin capital cities of an ancient empire of the Indus. Mohenio-daro and Ilarappa were marvelously developed, to a point. But at some time before 2,500 M2. development work had halted. The}: added no new goods and services from that time on, it seems, nor did they make any improvements in their old products. They simply repeated themselves. Their production must have been stupendous. The same The Valuable lnefliciencies and Impracticalities of Cities [' 93 standardized bricks were used in truly staggering quanti— ties, not only in the cities themselves but throughout the scores of towns in the empire. The same wonderfully ac— curate stone weights, in multiples and fractions of sixreen, were turned our. endlessly. And the voracious wood—fired kilns belonging to the two cities mass—produced so many identical pottery cups that Piggott speculates that it may have been the custom to drink from a cup and then break it. One suspects they had more cups than they knew What to do with. But while other people were developing the spoked wheel and the light chariots made possible by spoked wheels, Harappfi and l\-'10henjo—daro kept turning out only clumsy, solid wheels and cumbersome, heaiy wagons. ‘While other people were learning to strengthen bronze weapons and tools with a thickened central rib, and to make the heads of these with hollow hafts so handles could be fitted into them, I-larappfi and Mohenjo—daro ltept turning out only one—piece, flat, easily Eirolten im— plements. At length the Indus River at Mohenjo—daro became :1 lake of n1ud.* The mud Hews engulfed the city and undern'iined many buildings. The people seem to have been incapable of any response that involved changed ways of doing things, or new ideas. After every mud flood they rebuilt exactly as before, with their intermin~ able bricks, and the quality of the work deteriorated steadily until it was no longer done at all. The mud floods cannot be described as the “cause” of l‘viohenjo-daro's decay because a similar decline was evident it. the other city of Harappa and thrtmghout the empire, alongside :1 similar, endless repetitiveness of old work. The response to the mud floods was merely one dramatic sumptom of the till—pervading,r stagnation. ’ Just why is uncertain. I suspect that the immense destruction 0f forests, unremitting over a period of more than five cen— turies, to feed the mass—production brick and pottery kilns caused erosion and silting. _~n augm- w gamma-u”- a...“ ...
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Jacobs - JANE JACOBS Random House-New York The Valuable...

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