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Apr 06, 2010

Eyes On The Street

Post by admin

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.

If you were planning to commit a crime, would this be the first street you'd consider? Not if you wanted to go to jail. Image by Steven Dale.

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.



  • Dave Brough says:

    “How does one commit a crime in a neighborhood that is policed by 8 person gondolas which pass by overhead every 10-15 seconds?”

    Good point. I guess this means that the crime rate in Burnaby
    will go down. That and back yard sunbathing – or anything else.

    • Steven Dale says:

      @ Dave Brough

      I’m not sure what you point is. At the same time, the route under consideration in Burnaby doesn’t pass over top anyone’s backyard so it shouldn’t have any impact on back yard sunbathing.

  • Rose says:

    i think backyard sunbathing went out the window with the invention of 2-story houses.

    at the same time you have to consider that while it may provide eyes, a person in a gondola can’t stop a crime from happening 20 ft below them

    • Steven Dale says:

      @ Rose

      You’re totally right. Now that violence in Medellin has re-erupted, I’m beginning to rethink the theory behind the post. I don’t know if the violence reoccured in Santo Domingo in particular, but would be interested to find out.

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