• Harry Hobson

Jane Jacobs and the importance of the seemingly trivial neighbourhood interactions

We love Jane Jacobs, and particularly her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” published in 1961. For Neighbourly Lab, this book – and particularly this passage below - is what has led us towards our focus on increasing social-connectedness in the “informal everyday”. And led us to our Essential Mix programme where we’re running experiments in Glasgow and London to increase these “little sidewalk contacts” between essential-workers and the public. And led us to collaborating with Dr Gillian Sandstrom who’s the academic authority on the power of positive micro-interactions. And led us to our focus on widening access to neighbours comms groups which are today’s equivalent of the Manhattan sidewalk that she extols in the passage below.

Here she is in 1961, when she was campaigning in Greenwich Village, New York.


The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts. It grows out of people stopping by at the bar for a beer, getting advice from the grocer and giving advice to the newsstand man, comparing opinions with other customers at the bakery and nodding hello to the two boys drinking pop on the stoop, eyeing the girls while waiting to be called for dinner, admonishing the children, hearing about a job from the hardware man and borrowing a dollar from the druggist, admiring the new babies and sympathizing over the way a coat faded. Most of it is ostensibly utterly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such casual public contact at a local level — most of it fortuitous, most of it associated with errands, all of it metered by the person concerned and not thrust upon him by anyone — is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need.


We love the particular…the pop on the stoop; the coat that annoyingly faded…and we love the very human mix of motivations .. the “eyeing up” and the gossip and probably some humblebragging.

Here’s the passage again, this time with some of our highlighter-pen all over it.



The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts. It grows out of people stopping by at the bar for a beer, getting advice from the grocer and giving advice to the newsstand man, comparing opinions with other customers at the bakery and nodding hello to the two boys drinking pop on the stoop, eyeing the girls while waiting to be called for dinner, admonishing the children, hearing about a job from the hardware man and borrowing a dollar from the druggist, admiring the new babies and sympathizing over the way a coat faded. Most of it is ostensibly utterly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such casual public contact at a local level — most of it fortuitous, most of it associated with errands, all of it metered by the person concerned and not thrust upon him by anyone — is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need.



We ask all new-joiners at Neighbourly Lab to memorise the passage off by heart. Joking… but maybe we should…


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