In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961, Anne Jacobs argued for the virtues of close-knit, inner-city life, developed organically and built over time in opposition to the modernist kind of postwar planning of the mid-century city planners. These favoured free way building, exemplified best by Robert Moses who wanted to run a 10-lane elevated highway through the middle of Washington Square Park.
The modernist planners assumed that they knew best, and saw the wholesale remaking of the urban landscape and along with it the displacement of entire communities as essential in creating the modernist city of the future. This form of planning theory blamed high density for crime, filth, and a host of other problems.
Jacobs disproved these assumptions and demonstrated how a high concentration of people is vital for city life, economic growth, and prosperity. Jacobs argued that modernist urban planning rejected the city, because it rejects human beings living in a community characterized by layered complexity and seeming chaos. Jacobs advocated for “mixed-use” urban development – the integration of different building types and uses, whether residential or commercial, old or new. According to this idea, cities depend on a diversity of buildings, residences, businesses and other non-residential uses, as well as people of different ages using areas at different times of day, to create community vitality.
Opposing expressways and supporting neighborhoods were common themes in Australian cities in the 1960s. In Adelaide this took the form of The Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study or the MATS Plan which was deeply opposed. In opposition to the vision of a cookie-cutter corporate city of glass-box office towers, high-rise apartments, and limited-access highways some of those who opposed the MATS Plan wanted Adelaide to develop as a more European type city with high density housing and a stronger emphasis on public transport.
Those who advocated the latter held the view that a mixed-use, densely populated but still human-scale city was best fostered not by suburban plots or indeed by towering residential high-rises but by something in between, by a mix of four- or six- or nine-storey buildings in which people live and work and go back and forth “on different schedules” and for “different purposes.”
What has happened since the 1970s is that urban neighbourhoods have gone from being edgy and gritty working class to trendy and chic-- the process of middle-class gentrification. What has emerged is what Richard Florida terms the ‘creative class’: the trendy little shops of entrepreneurial designers, nouvelle cuisine restaurants and cappuccino bars, microbreweries, galleries, and the like.