by Sandy Ikeda
Also in “The City” section of Sunday’s The New York Times is a fun article about city corners called “Cornerville” that details the intensity of life at a particular spot of urban convergence, the intersection of 23rd Street and 7th Avenue, near the famed Chelsea Hotel. (Curiously, the article seems to just stop without really ending.)
Anyway, my late father often told me, when I was very young and more interested in real estate values than in studying cities, that it’s best to invest early in corner properties, whether in the city or country. He prospered by following this strategy, but he didn’t explain why it worked. Jane Jacobs does, sort of.
Jacobs stresses the importance of corners for overall economic development in a city, or more precisely, she argues that, ceteris paribus, short blocks are preferable to long blocks (which translates to more corners). Having shorter blocks and more corners multiplies the ways of getting from point A to point B, which enables pedestrians (and drivers) to experience more diversity of use at street level, and offers vendors more good locations to supply that diversity, than otherwise. Because roughly twice as many people will pass by a corner property per hour than locations at mid-block, the former naturally tend to be pricier than the latter.
A rule of thumb for the success of an urban center is that about 1000 persons need to pass through every hour (see Joel Garreaus’s Edge City). Short blocks and multiple corners make this more likely, as people who find streetscapes interesting tend to attract still more people, and more business.
Had he known her work I think my father, a wise and practical man, would have found much practical wisdom in Jane Jacobs.