Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks—the pedestrian
parts of the streets—serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians. These uses are bound up with
circulation but are not identical with it and in their own right they are at least as basic as circulation to
the proper workings of cities.
A city sidewalk by itself is nothing. It is an abstraction. It means something only in conjunction
with the buildings and other uses that border it, or border other sidewalks very near it. The same
might be said of streets, in the sense that they serve other purposes besides carrying wheeled traffic in
their middles. Streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs.
Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks
interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull.
More than that, and here we get down to the first problem, if a city’s streets are safe from
barbarism and fear, the city is thereby tolerably safe from barbarism and fear. When people say that a
city, or a part of it, is dangerous or is a jungle what they mean primarily is that they do not feel safe on
But sidewalks and those who use them are not passive beneficiaries of safety or helpless victims of
danger. Sidewalks, their bordering uses, and their users, are active participants in the drama of
civilization versus barbarism in cities. To keep the city safe is a fundamental task of a city’s streets and
This task is totally unlike any service that sidewalks and streets in little towns or true suburbs are
called upon to do. Great cities are not like towns, only larger. They are not like suburbs, only
denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by
definition, full of strangers. To anyone person, strangers are far more common in big cities than
acquaintances. More common not just in places of public assembly, but more common at a man’s own
doorstep. Even residents who live near each other are strangers, and must be, because of the sheer
number of people in small geographical compass.
The bedrock attribute of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe
and secure on the street among all these strangers. He must not feel automatically menaced by
them. A city district that fails in this respect also does badly in other ways and lays up for itself, and for
its city at large, mountain on mountain of trouble.
Today barbarism has taken over many city streets, or people fear it has, which comes to much the
same thing in the end. “1 live in a lovely, quiet residential area,” says a friend of mine who is hunting
another place to live. “The only disturbing sound at night is the occasional scream of someone being
mugged.” It does not take many incidents of violence on a city street, or in a city district, to make
people fear the streets. And as they fear them, they use them less, which makes the streets still more
To be sure, there are people with hobgoblins in their heads, and such people will never feel safe
no matter what the objective circumstances are. But this is a different matter from the fear that besets
normally prudent, tolerant and cheerful people who show nothing more than common sense in
refusing to venture after dark—or in a few places, by day—into streets where they may well be
assaulted, unseen or unrescued until too late.
The barbarism and the real, not imagined, insecurity that gives rise to such fears cannot be tagged
a problem of the slums. The problem is most serious, in fact, in genteel-looking “quiet residential areas” like that my friend was leaving.
It cannot be tagged as a problem of older parts of cities. The problem reaches its most baffling
dimensions in some examples of rebuilt parts of cities, including supposedly the best examples of
rebuilding, such as middle-income projects. The police precinct captain of a nationally admired project
of this kind (admired by planners and lenders) has recently admonished residents not only about
hanging around outdoors after dark but has urged them never to answer their doors without knowing
the caller. Life here has much in common with life for the three little pigs or the seven little kids of the
nursery thrillers. The problem of sidewalk and doorstep insecurity is as serious in cities which have
made conscientious efforts at rebuilding as it is in those cities that have lagged. Nor is it illuminating to
tag minority groups, or the poor, or the outcast with responsibility for city danger. There are immense
variations in the degree of civilization and safety found among such groups and among the city areas
where they live. Some of the safest sidewalks in New York City, for example, at any time of day or night,
are those along which poor people or minority groups live. And some of the most dangerous are in
streets occupied by the same kinds of people. All this can also be said of other cities.
Deep and complicated social ills must lie behind delinquency and crime, in suburbs and towns as
well as in great cities. This book will not go into speculation on the deeper reasons. It is sufficient, at
this point, to say that if we are to maintain a city society that can diagnose and keep abreast of deeper
social problems, the starting point must be, in any case, to strengthen whatever workable forces for
maintaining safety and civilization do exist in the cities we do have. To build city districts that are
custom made for easy crime is idiotic. Yet that is what we do.
The first thing to understand is that the public peace—the sidewalk and street peace—of
cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an
intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people
themselves, and enforced by the people themselves. In some city areas—older public housing
projects and streets with very high population turnover are often conspicuous examples—the keeping
of public sidewalk law order is left almost entirely to the police and special guards. Such places are
jungles. No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has
The second thing to understand is that the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading
people out more thinly, trading the characteristics of cities for the characteristics of suburbs. If this
could solve danger on the city streets, then Los Angeles should be a safe city because superficially Los
Angeles is almost all suburban. It has virtually no districts compact enough to qualify as dense city
areas. Yet Los Angeles cannot, any more than any other great city, evade the truth that, being a city, it is
composed of strangers not all of whom are nice… . But of this we can be sure: thinning out a city does
not insure safety from crime and fear of crime. This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn within
individual cities too, where pseudosuburbs or superannuated suburbs are ideally suited to rape,
muggings, beatings, holdups and the like.
Here we come up against an all-important question about any city street: How much easy
opportunity does it offer to crime? It may be that there is some absolute amount of crime in a given
city, which will find an outlet somehow (I do not believe this). Whether this is so or not, different kinds
of city streets garner radically different shares of barbarism and fear of barbarism… .
An incident at Washington Houses, a public housing project in New York, illustrates this point. A
tenants’ group at this project, struggling to establish itself, held some outdoor ceremonies in midDecember 1958, and put up three Christmas trees. The chief tree, so cumbersome it was a problem to
transport, erect, and trim, went into the project’s inner “street,” a landscaped central mall and promenade. The other two trees, each less than six feet tall and easy to carry, went on two small fringe plots at the outer corners of the project where it abuts a busy avenue am lively cross streets of the old city.
The first night, the large tree and all its trimmings were stolen. The two smaller trees remained intact,
lights, ornaments and all, until the) were taken down at New Year’s. “The place where the tree was
stolen, which is theoretically the most safe and sheltered place in the project, is the same place that is
unsafe for people too, especially children,” says a social worker who had been helping the tenants’
group. “People are no safer in that mall than the Christmas tree. On the other hand, the place where the
other trees were safe, where the project is just one corner out of four, happens to be safe for people.”
This is something everyone already knows: A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A
deserted city street is apt to be unsafe. But how does this work, really? And what makes a city street
well used or shunned? Why is the sidewalk mall in Washington Houses, which is supposed to be an
attraction, shunned? Why are the side· walks of the old city just to its west not shunned? What about
streets that are busy part of the time and then empty abruptly?
A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the
presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three
First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private
space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings
or in projects.
Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural
proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the
safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or
blank sides on it and leave it blind.
And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of
effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the
sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty
street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by
watching street activity.
In settlements that are smaller and simpler than big cities, controls on acceptable public behavior,
if not on crime, seem to operate with greater or lesser success through a web of reputation, gossip,
approval, disapproval and sanctions, all of which are powerful if people know each other and word
travels. But a city’s streets, which must control not only the behavior of the people of the city but also
of visitors from suburbs and towns who want to have a big time away from the gossip and sanctions at
home, have to operate by more direct, straightforward methods. It is a wonder cities have solved such
an inherently difficult problem at all. And yet in many streets they do it magnificently.
It is futile to try to evade the issue of unsafe city streets by attempting to make some other
features of a locality, say interior courtyards, or sheltered play spaces, safe instead. By definition again,
the streets of a city must do most of the job of handling strangers for this is where strangers come and
go. The streets must not only defend the city against predatory strangers, they must protect the many,
many peaceable and well-meaning strangers who use them, insuring their safety too as they pass
through. Moreover, no normal person can spend his life in some artificial haven, and this includes
children. Everyone must use the streets.
On the surface, we seem to have here some simple aims: To try to secure streets where the public
space is unequivocally public, physically unmixed with private or with nothing-at-all space, so that the
area needing surveillance has clear and practicable limits; and to see that these public street spaces
have eyes on them as continuously as possible.
But it is not so simple to achieve these objects, especially the latter. You can’t make people use
streets they have no reason to use. You can’t make people watch streets they do not want to watch.
Safety on the streets by surveillance and mutual policing of one another sounds grim, but in real life it
is not grim. The safety of the street works best, most casually, and with least frequent taint of hostility
or suspicion precisely where people are using and most enjoying the city streets voluntarily and are
least conscious, normally, that they are policing.
The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public
places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used
by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief
examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety.
First, they give people—both residents and strangers—concrete reasons for using the
sidewalks on which these enterprises face.
Second, they draw people along the sidewalks past places which have no attractions to
public use in themselves but which become traveled and peopled as routes to somewhere else; this
influence does not carry very far geographically, so enterprises must be frequent in a city district if
they are to populate with walkers those over stretches of street that lack public places along the Sidewalk. Moreover, there should be many different kinds of enterprises, to give people reasons for
Third, storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace
and order themselves; they hate broken windows and holdups; they hate having customers made
nervous about safety. They are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient
Fourth, the activity generated by people on errands, or people aiming for food or drink, is
itself an attraction to still other people.
This last point, that the sight of people attracts still other people, is something that city planners
and city architectural designers seem to find incomprehensible. They operate on the premise that city
people seek the sight of emptiness, obvious order and quiet. Nothing could be less true. People’s love
of watching activity and other people is constantly evident in cities everywhere. This trait reaches an
almost ludicrous extreme on upper Broadway in New York, where the street is divided by a narrow
central mall, right in the middle of traffic. At the cross-street intersections of this long north-south
mall, benches have been placed behind big concrete buffers and on any day when the weather is even
barely tolerable these benches are filled with people at block after block after block, watching the
pedestrians who cross the mall in front of them, watching the traffic, watching the people on the busy
sidewalks, watching each other. Eventually Broadway reaches Columbia University and Barnard
College, one to the right, the other to the left. Here all is obvious order and quiet. No more stores, no
more activity generated by the stores, almost no more pedestrians crossing—and no more watchers.
The benches are there but they go empty in even the finest weather. I have tried them and can see why.
No place could he more boring. Even the students of these institutions shun the solitude. They are
doing their outdoor loitering, outdoor homework, and general street watching on the steps overlooking the busiest campus crossing… .
Not everyone in cities helps to take care of the streets, and many a city resident or city worker is unaware of why his neighborhood is safe. The other day an incident occurred on the street where I
live, and it interested me because of this point.
My block of the street, I must explain, is a small one, but it contains a remarkable range of
buildings, varying from several vintages of tenements to three- and four-story houses that have been
converted into low-rent flats with stores on the ground floor, or returned to single-family use like ours.
Across the street there used to be mostly four-story brick tenements with stores below. But twelve
years ago several buildings, from the corner to the middle of the block, were converted into one
building with elevator apartments of small size and high rents.
The incident that attracted my attention was a suppressed struggle going on between a man and a
little girl of eight or nine years old. The man seemed to be trying to get the girl to go with him. By turns
he was directing a cajoling attention to her, and then assuming an air of nonchalance. The girl was
making herself rigid, as children do when they resist, against the wall of one of the tenements across
As I watched from our second-floor window, making up my mind how to intervene if it seemed
advisable, I saw it was not going to be necessary. From the butcher shop beneath the tenement had
emerged the woman who, with her husband, runs the shop; she was standing within earshot of the
man, her arms folded and a look of determination on her face. Joe Cornacchia, who with his sons-inlaw keeps the delicatessen, emerged about the same moment and stood solidly to the other side.
Several heads poked out of the tenement windows above, one was withdrawn quickly and its owner
reappeared a moment later in the doorway behind the man. Two men from the bar next to the butcher
shop carne to the doorway and waited. On my side of the street, I saw that the locksmith, the fruit man
and the laundry proprietor had all come out of their shops and that the scene was also being surveyed
from a number of windows besides ours. That man did not know it, but he was surrounded. Nobody
was going to allow a little girl to be dragged off, even if nobody knew who she was.
I am sorry—sorry purely for dramatic purposes—to have to report that the little girl turned out to
be the man’s daughter.
Throughout the duration of the little drama, perhaps five minutes in all, no eyes appeared in the
windows of the high-rent, small-apartment building. It was the only building of which this was true.
When we first moved to our block, I used to anticipate happily that perhaps soon all the buildings
would be rehabilitated like that one. I know better now, and can only anticipate with gloom and
foreboding the recent news that exactly this transformation is scheduled for the rest of the block
frontage adjoining the high-rent building. The high-rent tenants, most of whom are so transient we
cannot even keep track of their faces, have not the remotest idea of who takes care of the their street,
or how. A city neighborhood can absorb and protect a substantial number of these birds of passage, as
our neighborhood does. But if and when the neighborhood finally becomes them, they will gradually
find the streets less secure, they will be vaguely mystified about it, and if things get bad enough they
will drift away to another neighborhood which is mysteriously safer.
In some rich city neighborhoods, where there is little do-it-yourself surveillance, such as
residential Park Avenue or upper Fifth Avenue in New York, street watchers are hired. The
monotonous sidewalks of residential Park A venue, for example, are surprisingly little used; their
putative users are populating, instead, the interesting store-, bar- and restaurant-filled sidewalks of
Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue to east and west, and the cross streets leading to these. A
network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired
neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes. At night, with the security of the
doormen as a bulwark, dog walkers safely venture forth and supplement the doormen. But this street
is so blank of built-in eyes, so devoid of concrete reasons for using or watching it instead of turning the
first corner off of it, that if its rents were to slip below the point where they could support a plentiful
hired neighborhood of doormen and elevator men, it would undoubtedly become a woefully
Once a street is well equipped to handle strangers, once it has both a good, effective demarcation
between private and public spaces and has a basic supply of activity and eyes, the more strangers the
Strangers become an enormous asset on the street on which I live, and the spurs off it, particularly
at night when safety assets are most needed. We are fortunate enough, on the street, to be gifted not
only with a locally supported bar and another around the corner, but also with a famous bar that
draws continuous troops of strangers from adjoining neighborhoods and even from out of town. It is
famous because the poet Dylan Thomas used to go there, and mentioned it in his writing. This bar,
indeed, works two distinct shifts. In the morning and early afternoon it is a social gathering place for
the old community of Irish longshoremen and other craftsmen in the area, as it always was. But
beginning in mid afternoon it takes on a different life, more like a college bull session with beer,
combined with a literary cocktail party, and this continues until the early hours of the morning. On a
cold winter’s night, as you pass the White Horse, and the doors open, a solid wave of conversation and
animation surges out and hits you; very warming. The comings and goings from this bar do much to
keep our street reasonably populated until three in the morning, and it is a street always safe to come
home to… .
A friend of mine lives on a street uptown where a church youth and community center, with many
night dances and other activities, performs the same service for his street that the White Horse bar
does for ours. Orthodox planning is much imbued with puritanical and Utopian conceptions of how
people should spend their free time, and kin planning, these moralisms on people’s private lives are
deeply confused with concepts about the working of cities. In maintaining city street civilization, the
White Horse bar and the church-sponsored youth center different as they undoubtedly are, perform
much the same public street civilizing service. There is not only room in cities for such differences and
many more in taste, purpose and interest of occupations; cities also have a need for people with all
these differences in taste and proclivity. The preferences of Utopians, and of other compulsive
managers of other people’s leisure, for one kind of legal enterprise over others is worse than irrelevant
for cities. It is harmful. The greater and more plentiful the range of all legitimate interests (in the
strictly legal sense) that city streets and their enterprises can satisfy, the better for the streets and for
the safety and civilization of the city.
Bars, and indeed all commerce, have a bad name in many city districts precisely because they do
draw strangers, and the strangers do not work out as an asset at all.
This sad circumstance is especially true in the dispirited gray belts of great cities and in once
fashionable or at least once solid inner residential areas gone into decline. Because these
neighborhoods are so dangerous, and the streets typically so dark, it is commonly believed that their
trouble may be insufficient street lighting. Good lighting is important, but darkness alone does not
account for the gray areas’ deep, functional sickness, the Great Blight of Dullness.
The value of bright street lights for dispirited gray areas rises from the reassurance they offer to
some people who need to go out on the sidewalk, or would like to, but lacking the good light would not
do so. Thus the lights induce these people to contribute their own eyes to the upkeep of the street.
Moreover, as is obvious, good lighting augments every pair of eyes, makes the eyes count for more
because their range is greater. Each additional pair of eyes, and every increase in their range, is that
much to the good for dull gray areas. But unless eyes are there, and unless in the brains behind those
eyes is the almost unconscious reassurance of general street support in upholding civilization, lights
can do no good. Horrifying public crimes can, and do, occur in well-lighted subway stations when no
effective eyes are present. They virtually never occur in darkened theaters where many people and
eyes are present. Street lights can be like that famous stone that falls in the desert where there are no
ears to hear. Does it make a noise? Without effective eyes to see, does a light cast light? Not for
To explain the troubling effect of strangers on the streets of city gray areas, I shall first paint out,
for purposes of analogy, the peculiarities of another and figurative kind of street—the corridors of
high-rise public housing projects, those derivatives of Radiant City. The elevators and corridors of
these projects are, in a sense, streets. They are streets piled up in the sky in order to eliminate streets
on the ground and permit the ground to become deserted parks like the mall at Washington Houses
where the tree was stolen.
Not only are these interior parts of the buildings streets in the sense that they serve the comings
and goings of residents, most of whom may not know each other or recognize, necessarily, who is a
resident and who is not. They are streets also in the sense of being accessible to the public. They have
been designed in an imitation of upper-class standards for apartment living without upper-class cash
for doormen and elevator men. Anyone at all can go into these buildings, unquestioned, and use the
traveling streets of the elevator and the sidewalks that are the corridors. These interior streets,
although completely accessible to public use, are closed to public view and they thus lack the checks
and inhibitions exerted by eye-policed city streets.
Troubled, SO far as I can determine, less by the amply proved dangers to human beings in these
blind-eyed streets than by the vandalism to property that occurs in them, the New York City Housing
Authority some years back experimented with corridors open to public view in a Brooklyn project
which I shall call Blenheim Houses although that is not its name. (I do not wish to add to its troubles by
Because the buildings of Blenheim Houses are Sixteen stories high, and because their height
permits generous expanses of shunned ground area, surveillance of the open corridors from the
ground or from other buildings offers little more than psychological effect, but this psychological
openness to view does appear effective to some degree. More important and effective, the corridors
were well designed to induce surveillance from within the buildings themselves. Uses other than plain
circulation were built into them. They were equipped as play space, and made sufficiently generous to
act as narrow porches, as well as passageways. This all turned out to be so lively and interesting that
the tenants added still another use and much the favorite: picnic grounds-this in spite of continual
pleas and threats from the management which did not plan that the balcony-corridors should serve as
picnic grounds. (The plan should anticipate everything and then permit no changes.) The tenants are
devoted to the balcony-corridors; and as a result of being intensively used the balconies arc under
intense surveillance. There has been no problem of crime in these particular corridors, nor of
vandalism either. Not even light bulbs are stolen or broken, although in projects of similar size with
blind-eyed corridors, light bulb replacements solely because of theft or vandalism customarily run into
the thousands each month.
So far so good.
A striking demonstration of the direct connection between city surveillance and city safety!
Nonetheless, Blenheim Houses has a fearsome problem of vandalism and scandalous behavior.
The lighted balconies which are, as the manager puts it, “the brightest and most attractive scene in
sight,” draw strangers, especially teen-agers, from all over Brooklyn. But these strangers, lured by the
magnet of the publicly visible corridors, do not halt at the visible corridors. They go into other
“streets” of the buildings, streets that lack surveillance. These include the elevators and, more
important in this case, the fire stairs and their landings. The housing police run up and down after the
malefactors-who behave barbarously and viciously in the blind-eyed, sixteen-story-high stairways-and
the malefactors elude them. It is easy to run the elevators up to a high floor, jam the doors so the
elevators cannot be brought down, and then play hell with a building and anyone you can catch. So
serious is the problem and apparently so uncontrollable, that the advantage of the safe corridors is all
but canceled-at least in the harried manager’s eyes.
What happens at Blenheim Houses is somewhat the same as what happens in dull gray areas of
cities. The gray areas’ pitifully few and thinly spaced patches of brightness and life are like the visible
corridors at Blenheim Houses. They do attract strangers. But the relatively deserted, dull, blind streets
leading from these places are like the fire stairs at Blenheim Houses. These are not equipped to handle
strangers and the presence of strangers in them is an automatic menace.
The temptation in such cases is to blame the balconies—or the commerce or bars that serve as a
magnet… . This is City Planning, with all the stamp of orthodoxy on it, not some aberration of local
Suppose we continue with building, and with deliberate rebuilding, of unsafe cities. How do we
live with this insecurity? From the evidence thus far, there seem to be three modes of living with it;
maybe in time others will be invented but I suspect these three will simply be further developed, if that
is the word for it.
The first mode is to let danger hold sway, and let those unfortunate enough to be stuck with it
take the consequences. This is the policy now followed with respect to low-income housing projects,
and to many middle-income housing projects.
The second mode is to take refuge in vehicles. This is a technique practiced in the big wildanimal reservations of Africa, where tourists are warned to leave their cars under no circumstances
until they reach a lodge. It is also the technique practiced in Los Angeles. Surprised visitors to that city
are forever recounting how the police of Beverly Hills stopped them, made them prove their reasons
for being afoot, and warned them of the danger. This technique of public safety does not seem to work
too effectively yet in Los Angeles, as the crime rate shows, but in time it may. And think what the crime
figures might be if more people without metal shells were helpless upon the vast, blind-eyed
reservation of Los Angeles.
People in dangerous parts of other cities often use automobiles as protection too, of course, or try
to. A letter to the editor in the New York Post, reads, “I live on a dark street off Utica Avenue in
Brooklyn and therefore decided to take a cab home even though it was not late. The cab driver asked
that I get off at the corner of Utica, saying he did not want to go down the dark street. If I had wanted to
walk down the dark street, who needed him?”
The third mode … was developed by hoodlum gangs and has been adopted widely by developers
of the rebuilt city. This mode is to cultivate the institution of Turf.
Under the Turf system in its historical form, a gang appropriates as its territory certain streets or
housing projects or parks—often a combination of the three. Members of other gangs cannot enter this
Turf without permission from the Turf-owning gang, or if they do so it is at peril of being beaten or run
off. In 1956, the New York City Youth Board, fairly desperate because of gang warfare, arranged
through its gang youth workers a series of truces among fighting gangs. The truces were reported to
stipulate, among other provisions, a mutual understanding of Turf boundaries among the gangs
concerned and agreement not to trespass.
The city’s police commissioner, Stephen P. Kennedy, thereupon expressed outrage at agreements
respecting Turf. The police, he said, aimed to protect the right of every person to walk any part of the
city in safety and with impunity as a basic right. Pacts about Turf, he indicated, were intolerably
subversive both of public rights and public safety.
I think Commissioner Kennedy was profoundly right. However, we must reflect upon the problem
facing the Youth Board workers. It was a real one, and they were trying as well as they could to meet it
with whatever empirical means they could. The safety of the city, on which public right and freedom of
movement ultimately depend, was missing from the unsuccessful streets, parks and projects
dominated by these gangs. Freedom of the city, under these circumstances, was a rather academic
Now consider the redevelopment projects of cities: the middle-and upper-income housing
occupying many acres of city, many former blocks, with their own grounds and their own streets to
serve these “islands within the City,” “cities within the city,” and “new concepts in city living,” as the
advertisements for them say. The technique here is also to designate the Turf and fence the other
gangs out. At first the fences were never visible. Patrolling guards were sufficient to enforce the line.
But in the past few years the fences have become literal… . On the whole, people seem to get used
very quickly to living in a Turf with either a figurative or a literal fence, and to wonder how they got on
without it formerly… . Stockade life had become normal and they feared for their safety without the
Like the Youth Board workers, the developers and residents of Radiant City and Radiant Garden
City and Radiant Garden City Beautiful have a genuine difficulty and they have to do the best they can
with it by the empirical means at their disposal. They have little choice. Wherever the rebuilt city rises
the barbaric concept of Turf must follow, because the rebuilt city has junked a basic function of the city
street and with it, necessarily, the freedom of the city.
Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a
marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex
order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order
is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art
form of the city and liken it to the dance-not to a simpleminded precision dance with everyone kicking
up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the
individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other
and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to
place, and in anyone place is always replete with new improvisations.
The stretch of Hudson Street where I live is each day the scene of an intricate sidewalk ballet. I
make my own first entrance into it a little after eight when I put out the garbage can, surely a prosaic
occupation, but I enjoy my part, my little clang, as the droves of junior high school students walk by the
center of the stage dropping candy wrappers. (How do they eat so much candy so early in the
While I sweep up the wrappers I watch the other rituals of morning: Mr. Halpert unlocking the
laundry’s handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the
empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair, Mr. Goldstein
arranging the coils of wire which proclaim the hardware store is open, the wife of the tenement’s
superintendent depositing her chunky three-year old with a toy mandolin on the stoop, the vantage
point from which he is learning the English his mother cannot speak. Now the primary children,
heading for St. Luke’s, dribble through to the south; the children for St. Veronica’s cross, heading to the
west, and the children for p.s. 41, heading toward the east. Two new entrances are being made from
the wings: well-dressed and even elegant women and men with brief cases emerge from doorways and
side streets. Most of these are heading for the bus and subways, but some hover on the curbs, stopping
taxis which have miraculously appeared at the right moment, for the taxis are part of a wider morning
ritual: having dropped passengers from midtown in the downtown financial district, they are now
bringing downtowners up to midtown. Simultaneously, numbers of women in housedresses have
emerged and as they crisscross with one another they pause for quick conversations that sound with
either laughter or joint indignation, never, it seems, anything between. It is time for me to hurry to
work too, and I exchange my ritual farewell with Mr. Lofaro, the short, thick-bodied, white-aproned
fruit man who stands outside his doorway a little up the street, his arms folded, his feet planted,
looking solid as earth itself. We nod; we each glance quickly up and down the street, then look back to
each other and smile. We have done this many a morning for more than ten years, and we both know
what it means: All is well… .
As darkness thickens and Mr. Halpert moors the laundry cart to the cellar door again, the ballet
goes on under lights, eddying back and forth but intensifying at the bright spotlight pools of Joe’s
sidewalk pizza dispensary, the bars, the delicatessen, the restaurant and the drug store. The night
workers stop now at the delicatessen, to pick up salami and a container of milk. Things have settled
down for the evening but the street and its ballet have not come to a stop. I know the deep night ballet
and its seasons best from waking long after midnight to tend a baby and, sitting in the dark, seeing the
shadows and hearing the sounds of the sidewalk. Mostly it is a sound like infinitely pattering snatches
of party conversation and, about three in the morning, singing, very good singing. Sometimes there is
sharpness and anger or sad, sad weeping, or a flurry of search for a string of beads broken. One night a
young man came roaring along, bellowing terrible language at two girls whom he had apparently
picked up and who were disappointing him. Doors opened, a wary semicircle formed around him, not
too close, until the police came. Out came the heads, too, along Hudson Street, offering opinion, “Drunk
… Crazy … A wild kid from the suburbs.” [He turned out to be a wild kid from the suburbs. Sometimes,
on Hudson Street, we are tempted to believe the suburbs must be a difficult place to bring up children.]
On Hudson Street, the same as in the North End of Boston or in any other animated neighborhoods
of great cities, we are not innately more competent at keeping the sidewalks safe than are the people
who try to live off the hostile truce of Turf in a blind-eyed city. We are the lucky possessors of a city
order that makes it relatively simple to keep the peace because there are plenty of eyes on the street.
But there is nothing simple about that order itself, or the bewildering number of components that go
into it. Most of those components are specialized in one way or another. They unite in their joint effect
upon the sidewalk, which is not specialized in the least. That is its strength.
I finally got it. Apparently there just isnt a bookstore near my house that caries it, and on amazon the cheapest used paperback was still $15 not including shipping. Hooray for getting free shit off the interwebs. Im so excited about it, you have no idea.