Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In Memorium, Urbanist Jane Jacobs

NEW YORK -- "Jane Jacobs, an author and community activist of singular influence whose classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" transformed ideas about urban planning, has died. Ms. Jacobs, a longtime resident of Toronto, was 89.

Ms. Jacobs died Tuesday morning, according to Random House publicist Sally Marvin, who did not give a cause of death.

A native of Scranton, Pa., Ms. Jacobs lived for many years in New York before moving to Toronto in the late 1960s. She and her husband, architect Robert Jacobs Jr., were unhappy their taxes were supporting the Vietnam War and they eventually made Canada their permanent home. Robert Jacobs died in 1996.

Ms. Jacobs' impact transcended borders. Basing her findings on deep, eclectic reading and firsthand observation, Ms. Jacobs challenged assumptions she believed damaged modern cities -- that neighborhoods should be isolated from each other, that an empty street was safer than a crowded one, that the car represented progress over the pedestrian.

Her priorities were for integrated, manageable communities, for diversity of people, transportation, architecture and commerce. She also believed that economies need to be self-sustaining and self-renewing, relying on local initiative instead of centralized bureaucracies.

"Death and Life," published in 1961, evolved from opposing the standards of the time to becoming a standard itself. It was taught in urban studies classes throughout North America and sold more than half a million copies. City planners in New York and Toronto were among those who cited its importance and her book became an essential text for "New Urban" communities such as Hercules, Calif., and Civano, Ariz.

Ms. Jacobs also received a number of prizes, including a lifetime achievement award in 2000 from the National Building Foundation in Washington, D.C....

Her most famous confrontation came in the early '60s, when she helped defeat a plan by New York City park commissioner Robert Moses to build an expressway through Washington Square ....

One of her favorite phrases was "in the real world." She continued a long tradition of American pragmatism, from Benjamin Franklin to John Dewey and William James. She believed ideas should come from experience as opposed to the other way around.

"Death and Life" emerged from her reporting. Not only did it attack canonical beliefs in city planning, it attacked such canonical figures as Moses and historian Lewis Mumford.

Ms. Jacobs thought cities suffered from an anti-city bias among planners, the romanticization of a more rural way of life. Because of this, she wrote, vital communities were being torn down simply because they were "crowded," other neighborhoods were fatally isolated and parks were being constructed without regard to their surrounding environment.

She specifically criticized Mumford, author of "The Culture of Cities," for his misguided attachment to the anti-city philosophy, and Mr. Moses for his dogmatic attachment to the automobile....

[In] her subsequent works, she examined the ideas outlined in "Death and Life" from a variety of perspectives: "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" focused on the economy; "Systems of Survival" on morals; "The Nature of Economies" on science and ecology."

Associated Press "Jane Jacobs, Author and Activist, Dies" via Wall Street Journal On-line April 25, 2006


Urban Center of Toronto, Canada, undergoing "creative destruction" in order to accommodate petroleum-based, automobile culture.

Photo credit: Achives of Toronto, Canada. With thanks.



Post a Comment

<< Home