In her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban theorist Jane Jacobs declared that a safe street or neighborhood was one that had plenty of “eyes” on it. That is, the more people use a street, the safer it becomes. Criminals, after all, don’t like the prying eyes of strangers and locals tend to defend that which is theirs. People, in other words, police themselves.
This concept would become known as Jacobs’ Eyes on the Street theory and in the 50 years since Death and Life‘s original publication, it’s become a bedrock principle of urban planning (though one – arguably – that is rarely adhered to).
This has dramatic implications for urban gondola systems and yet is almost never even considered by the cable transit, public transit and urban planning industries. I never considered it until last month.
Consider Medellin, Colombia’s Santo Domingo Metrocable line.
In the four years since it opened, the once-crime-ridden barrio of Santo Domingo (which the Metrocable serves) has been transformed. Investment is up 300%, job creation has skyrocketed, rents have increased, crime has virtually disappeared and 3 banks have moved into an area. Four years!
(Note how important the bank part is: Banks don’t tend to move into viciously dangerous areas. Doesn’t make for good business.)
The question is why? Why did so much change so quickly? There are many different theories one could posit, but as I see it, there’s one logical theory that holds more water than the others: Eyes on the Street.
How does one commit a crime in a neighborhood that is policed by 8 person gondolas which pass by overhead every 10-15 seconds? Gondolas that are each equipped with a direct-link communications system? Gondolas that are filled with curious onlookers? Who all have cell phones? Who are invisible to the crime’s perpetrators who might otherwise intimidate them out of snitching? How do you successfully commit that crime?
You don’t. Not if you don’t want to get caught.