City planning and software development

I’m currently reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, with the hope that it will reveal whether city planning would be a meaningful analogy to software architecture. Reading the introduction, I can certainly connect what Jacobs calls “orthodox city planning theory” with an illusion about software development which I think it’s important to rid ourselves of:

The Decentrists [a group of city planners who adopted the ideas about Garden Cities of Sir Ebenezer Howard and Sir Patrick Geddes] also pounded in Howard’s premises that the planned community must be islanded off as a self-contained unit, that it must resist future change, and that every significant detail must be controlled by the planners from the start and then stuck to. In short, good planning was project planning.

My impression so far (I’m only twenty pages into the book) is that Jacobs preaches guided evolution and criticizes up-front planning. She writes that city planners didn’t care to look at how cities work and that the theory had nothing to do with reality. She quotes Lewis Mumford as calling New York’s midtown a “solidified chaos”, and Clarence Stein as calling the shape and appearance of cities “a chaotic accident &hellips; the summation of the haphazard, antagonistic whims of many self-centered, ill-advised individuals.”

The Decentrists’ solution seems to too skewed towards the structured and orderly – which is something I believe humans are inclined to when they feel they aren’t in control. If something is perceived as chaotic, order is often overdosed to gain control.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on March 16, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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