Jane Jacobs “helped us see that roads and buildings and streetscapes encapsulated information”

I like Alice Munro’s comparison between her way of reading a short story, and the experience a person has when visiting somebody’s house.

We all know how a house works, she remarks in the anthology entitled The art of the short story (2206), and “how it encloses space and makes connections between one enclosed space and another and presents what is outside in a new way.”

In an article entitled “Built form and the metaphor of storytelling,” in What we see: Advancing the observations of Jane Jacobs (2010), Robert Sirman comments that Jane Jacobs “helped us to see that roads and buildings and streetscapes encapsulated information, and that this information played an active role in how people defined themselves and the world around them. Cities communicated meaning” (p. 161).

That is, a narrative can be approached as one approaches a figurative house.

Similarly, a physical house, a road, or a streetscape can be approached as serving to enclose, or encapsulate, information.

These are both great ways, I would argue, to picture what we do when we read anything that presents itself to our figurative or non-figurative field of vision.

Semiotics and phenomenology

I owe thanks to Michael Michalak of Centennial College for pointing out this book, What we see (2010), to me.

Robert Sirman adds that Jacob’s way of looking at buildings and streetscapes is a matter of “the application of semiotics and phenomenological principles to cities.”

He refers, as well, to Jacob’s conclusion regarding what can be described as a phenomenological perspective on buildings and roads.

The conclusion is that “if a city’s built form impacts all who pass through it, then all who pass through it have a vested interest in the decisions that underlie how the city is built. The end users of a new building or road or subdivision are not simply the landlords or primary occupants, but virtually anyone who comes in contact with the space. To Jacobs, design was political” (p. 161).


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