At the New Republic’s new urbanism blog The Avenue, Jennifer Bradley takes issue with Thomas Jefferson’s placement on a recent list of history’s hundred greatest urban thinkers. The textual evidence, she notes, is damning. Jefferson wrote frequently about the noxious moral effects of cities and condemned them as inimical to true self-governance.
I wonder, though, if Jefferson’s thought is more amenable to modern urbanism than Hamilton’s, his famously pro-city rival. Hamilton supported effective technocracy and centralized planning projects, while Jefferson supported local organizing and as much direct democracy as possible. Perhaps we can recognize in these two rival systems of thought a foreshadowing of the confrontation between Robert Moses (#23 on the list) and Jane Jacobs (#1 on the list)? Aren’t Jefferson’s values, especially the idea that community participation is good in itself, the ones upheld in successful urban neighborhoods, while the Hamiltonian technocrats have decamped for the suburbs, whose muncipal governments strive to be nothing more than efficient deliverers of services?