As I walk through cities nowadays I try to look through a Jane Jacobian lens at the diversity of enterprise and use about. By use, Jacobs literally means the uses buildings provide: living, working, commerce, diversion, to name some of the main ones. Nowadays it’s easy to take for granted mixed-use buildings, but they exist because the city planning orthodoxy of today – which Jacobs influenced through her writing and activism – makes space for them.

Mixing of uses is only one of the ingredients that Jacobs argues districts must employ to generate lively and diverse city life. Another one is short blocks, to allow foot traffic from adjacent streets. On a recent walk, I noticed how much was packed onto one side of a short city block on one of the lively stretches of East Hastings in East Vancouver. A gym offering luxury fight goods and apparel, a plant shop, a laundry service business, a kitchen renovation business, a small counterservice cafe offering “Italian street food”, a nail studio, a print shop, a beauty salon, a travel agency, an importer’s office, a Vietnamese restaurant, and a hip diner. Most of these on the ground level of a three-storey residential building occupying much of the block. On the corner past the diner a vacant lot recently bulldozed in preparation for a four-storey mixed-use residential building.

A fifteen minute walk away begins the vibrant stretch of Commercial Drive, one of the liveliest areas of East Vancouver. Near its north tip, for example, there’s a gallery, a secondhand clothing shop, a shop for local art, and a coworking space, all in the same building and all apparently run by the same collective, which hosts events including stand up comedy nights and craft workshops in the gallery and coworking space.

Diversity is possible in cities, Jane Jacobs explains, because they bring together people in quantities so great that critical mass can be reached for projects and enterprises that can’t survive in sparser and less diverse communities. But for diversity to flourish and thrive, cities must create and maintain four key conditions: mixing of use, short blocks, buildings of varying age, and population density.