Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

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Clumsy City by Design—A Theory for Jane Jacobs’ Imperfect Cities?

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Abstract:  How do different concepts of justice correspond with the principles of diversity in cities introduced by Jane Jacobs? This contribution connects Jane Jacobs’ ideas on the diverse city with Mary Douglas’ Cultural Theory and its concept of clumsy solutions. According to Douglas’ Cultural Theory, every social situation can be described in terms of the four ideal-typical “rationalities”: individualism, egalitarianism, hierarchism, and fatalism. These four rationalities are again linked to different concepts of justice: libertarian, utilitarian, or social justice. Douglas’ Cultural Theory assumes that in every social situation all four of those rationalities emerge in some way and concludes that if a situation is not poly-rational, it is less robust. This opts for imperfect and “clumsy solutions”. It is argued that clumsy solutions, the four rationalities and related concepts fit Jane Jacobs’ claim for more diversity in urban design. This essentially calls for imperfect cities by design, ‘built’ by Jacobs’ generators for diversity. Although this outcome might not be revolutionary in the current debates about urban design, the concept of clumsy solutions provide a foundation for Jane Jacobs’ atheoretical claim for a diverse city. This contributes to new reflections on the urban planning paradigms of Jane Jacobs.

Keywords:  clumsy solutions; Cultural Theory; diversity; Jane Jacobs; just city; libertarianism; Mary Douglas; social justice; urban design; utilitarianism



© Sarah Maria Schmitt, Thomas Hartmann. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.