Clumsy city by design—A theory for jane jacobs’ imperfect cities?

Sarah Maria Schmitt, Thomas Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


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 polyrational, 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-50
Number of pages9
JournalUrban Planning
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Clumsy solutions
  • Cultural theory
  • Diversity
  • Jane Jacobs
  • Just city
  • Libertarianism
  • Mary Douglas
  • Social justice
  • Urban design
  • Utilitarianism

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