Volume 1, Issue 2, Fall 2018
Subsidiarity in the City
Jane Jacobs’s classic 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, famously indicted a vision of urban development based on large scale projects, low population densities, and automobile-centered transportation infrastructure by showing that small plans, mixed uses, architectural preservation, and district autonomy contributed better to urban vitality and thus the appeal of cities. Implicit in her thinking is something that could be called “the urban good,” and recognizable within her vision of the good is the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that governance is best when it is closest to the people it serves and the needs it addresses—a principle found in Catholic papal encyclicals and related documents. Jacobs’s work illustrates and illuminates the principle of subsidiarity, not merely through her writings on cities, but also through her activism in New York City, which was influential in altering the direction of that city’s subsequent planning and development.