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Thread: Jane Jacobs dies

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    Default Jane Jacobs dies

    Jane Jacobs dies
    Globe and Mail Update

    Jane Jacobs, the urban expert and social activist who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, died this morning at Toronto Western Hospital after about a year of up and down health problems.

    She was taken to Toronto Western Hospital on Saturday after having suffered what appeared to be a stroke.

    The American-born Canadian was 89 years old and had lived in Toronto since 1968. She was considered one of the most influential critics of urban planning.

    When she was appointed as an officer to the Order of Canada in 1996, her citation said "her seminal writings and thought-provoking commentaries on urban development have had a tremendous effect on city dwellers, planners and architects."

    It continues: "By stimulating discussion, change and action, she has helped to make Canadian city streets and neighbourhoods vibrant, liveable and workable for all."

    In a 1997 profile, The Globe's Doug Saunders wrote she is known as the "lady who resurrected The Neighbourhood: the whole notion of the city as a good and self-sustaining entity. Her epochal 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities made millions of North Americans realize that "urban renewal" and government-planned development were hurting cities, and that bustling streets, tight-packed neighbourhoods and downtown clutter were actually good things."

    A Jane Jacobs bookshelf

    The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961): Cities rely on access to sidewalks and parks, high-density housing with a mix of incomes, uses and ages of buildings, and hands-off planning.

    The Economy of Cities (1969): Urban economies are based on replacement of imports with indigenous products. Cycles of trade and entrepreneurship are vital to urban life.

    The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle for Sovereignty (1980): Like Norway's separation from Sweden, Quebec's from Canada can be good for both parties if they maintain separate currencies.

    Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life (1984): National economies are in fact the economies of urban regions, and national economies work best when cities are given maximum autonomy. Backward cities should trade with one another and consider secession.

    Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992): Human societies rely on two distinct systems of morality: "commercial" and "guardian." Both are vital, but troubles arise when the two are combined.

    A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece (1995): Jacobs reconstructs the journals of her great aunt, part of the U.S. "civilization" of Alaska at the turn of the century, and annotates them with short essays on the civil and political life of a fledgling society.

    With files from Sandra Martin

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    Jane Jacobs dies at 89
    Apr. 25, 2006. 12:03 PM

    Jane Jacobs was an urban legend.

    She was a writer, intellectual, analyst, ethicist and moral thinker, activist, self-made economist, and a fearless critic of inflexible authority.

    Mrs. Jacobs died this morning in Toronto. She was 89.

    An American who chose to be Canadian, Mrs. Jacobs was a leader in the fights to preserve neighbourhoods and kill expressways, first in New York City, and then in Toronto.

    Her efforts to stop the proposed expressway between Manhattan Bridge on east Manhattan and the Holland tunnel on the west ended contributed toward saving SoHo, Chinatown, and the west side of Greenwich Village.

    In Toronto, her leadership galvanized the movement that stopped the proposed Spadina Expressway. It would have cut a swath through the lively Annex neighbourhood and parts of the downtown.

    Her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, became a bible for neighbourhood organizers and what she termed the “foot people”.

    It made the case against the utopian planning culture of the times — residential high-rise development, expressways through city hearts, slum clearances, and desolate downtowns.

    She believed that residential and commercial activity should be in the same place, that the safest neighbourhoods teem with life, short winding streets are better than long straight ones, low-rise housing is better than impersonal towers, that a neighbourhood is where people talk to one another. She liked the small-scale.

    Not everyone agreed. Her arch-critic, Lewis Mumford, called her vision “higgledy-piggledy unplanned casualness.”

    Mrs. Jacobs was seen by many of her supporters — mistakenly — as left-wing. Not so.

    Her views embraced the marketplace, supported privatization of utilities, frowned on subsidies, and detested the intrusions of government, big or small.

    Nor was she right-wing. In fact, she had no time for ideology.

    “I think ideologies, no matter what kind, are one of the greatest afflictions because they blind us to seeing what’s going on or what’s being done,’’ she was quoted.

    “I’m kind of an atheist,” she said. “As for being a rightist or a leftist, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I think ideologies are blinders.”

    Mrs. Jacobs scorned nationalism and argued in her 1980 book, The Question of Separatism, that Quebec would be better off leaving Canada. Moreover, she argued that some cities would be better off as independent economic and political units.

    Her view of cities startled long-held perceptions. In her 1969 book, The Economy of Cities, Mrs. Jacobs challenged the dogma of agricultural primacy and created a debate on both the economic growth and stagnation of cities.

    “Current theory in many fields — economics, history, anthropology — assumed that cities are built upon a rural economic base,’’ she wrote.

    “If my observations and reasonings are correct, the reverse is true: that is rural economies, including agricultural work, are directly built upon city economies and city work.”

    “For me,” John Sewell, a former mayor of Toronto recalled, “the most significant influence was in terms of the notion that cities drive economies, not provincial or national governments.”

    “She’s the one who propagated the thought, and I think she’s dead right.” Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago — the 1995 winner of the Nobel Prize for economics — liked Mrs. Jacob’s theories.

    “I like her style,” he was quoted. “That kind of stepping back from facts and asking, what kind of economics produced this idea, is just a natural thing for an economist to do. I think everybody in economics finds her work very congenial for that reason.’’

    Even though she had limited formal education. Mrs. Jacobs was no expert, bare of established credentials, but a member of that wonderful school of amateurs — American writers who were observers, critics and original thinkers, including such names as Paul Goodman, William H. Whyte, Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan and Ralph Nader.

    Mrs. Jacobs, born May 4, 1916, grew up in Scranton, the center of Pennsylvania coal country.

    Scranton may well have sparked Mrs. Jacob’s life-long interest in cities and how they work. It provided “a template of how a city stagnates and declines and may be part of the reason why that subject interested me so much, because I came from a city where that happened.” she was quoted.

    “I think I was rather fortunate in having wonderful school teachers in the first and second grade. They taught me almost everything I knew in school.

    “From the third grade on, I’m sorry to say, they were nice people, but they were dopes.’”

    “I came from a family where women had worked, mostly as schoolteachers, for quite a few generations. I had a great-aunt who went to Alaska and taught Indians. My mother had worked as a schoolteacher, then a nurse; she became the night supervising nurse at an important hospital in Philadelphia,” she was quoted.

    “Those were traditional women’s occupations, to be sure. But I did grow up with the idea that women could do things, and in my own family I was treated much the same as my brothers.”

    Finishing high school, she trained as a stenographer but got an unpaid job as a reporter at the local newspaper. Mrs. Jacobs moved to New York City in the Depression years and wrote a few articles for Vogue.

    Then, at age 22, she went to Columbia University, but that didn’t last and after two years she returned to writing. She never embraced an institutional affiliation.

    David Crombie, a former may or of Toronto, described Mrs. Jacobs as a “Harvard refusenik.”

    In fact, according to Crombie, she had been offered more than 30 honourary degrees and turned them all down.

    “It just wasn’t her style,” Crombie said. “She didn’t see that as what she was about.”

    She married Robert Jacobs in 1944. He was an architect and it was his work that got her interest in Architectural Forum, a monthly magazine, where after a short time she went to work, becoming a senior editor.

    Theirs was a close relationship and a happy marriage. It was to last for 52 years before he died of lung cancer at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, a hospital he had designed.

    In 1958, after writing about downtowns for Fortune magazine, Mrs. Jacobs received a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation to write about cities. At the same time, she was creating havoc with developers, planners and politicians who wanted to put a highway through New York City.

    Jason Epstein, her long-time editor at Random House and co-founder of the New York Review of Books, recalled that the proposed expressway had nothing to do with moving traffic. “It would be devastating to the city,” he said.

    “The reason to build it was that it was eligible for federal highway funds because it connected New Jersey to New York.

    “It meant jobs for the construction industry, lots of money for politicians and architects who benefit from those things, and probably for real estate developers who would pick up on the fringes.

    “It took 12 years for Jane to finally stop this thing,” Epstein recalled. “She was arrested at one point and charged with a couple of felonies and was in serious trouble. At one point she was thrown in jail.”

    In 1968, Mrs. Jacobs and her family moved to Toronto. They didn’t want their two draft-age sons, Jim and Ned, to serve in the Vietnam war.

    “It never occurred to me that I would ever be anything else but American,” she was quoted. But that changed when she took part in a march on the Pentagon in 1967 and found herself facing a row of soldiers in gas masks.

    “They looked like some big horrible insect, the whole bunch of them together, not human beings at all. … After a certain amount of time passed, I decided, well, that’s it. … I fell out of love with my country. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t feel a part of America anymore.”

    Toronto was ripe for Mrs. Jacobs. She wasn’t here long before plans were revealed to build the Spadina Expressway, which promised to cut a strip through the city, making it easier for suburbanites to commute in and out of the downtown. She wrote a newspaper article highly critical of city planners for their vision to ‘Los Angelize’ what she described as “the most hopeful and healthy city in North America, still unmangled, still with options.”

    In an unrequited sentiment, odd as it might seem, planners adored Jacobs. She described them this way, however. “First of all, our official planning departments seem to be brain-dead in the sense that we cannot depend on them in any way, shape or form for providing intellectual leadership in addressing urgent problems involving the physical future of the city.”

    Mrs. Jacobs galvanized local citizens against the planners and politicians in what became known as the Stop Spadina movement.

    “She really enjoyed the activist part,” Crombie recalled, “the strategy, the being on the streets, being at the meetings. She enjoyed meeting people, she enjoyed the vigour of activism.”

    That was one facet of Mrs. Jacob’s character. Another, as Crombie put it, was Jane the ethicist.

    “She had a terrific sense of the moral order,’’ he said. “She had the moral authority of an Old Testament prophet and the easy authority of a mother superior.”

    For the most part, Mrs. Jacob’s books were an intellectual progression, each taking her thoughts on cities and economies a step further.

    “She moved beyond planning to look at the city as economic generator,” commented Christopher Hume, urban affairs writer for The Star.

    “Eschewing jargon and received wisdom, she possessed an extraordinary clarity of mind that enabled her to reveal truths so obvious they were in visible to the rest of the world.”

    Epstein, the New York book editor who discovered Mrs. Jacobs as a writer of books, described her as a “shrewd” woman.

    “She had that wonderful double view, trusting no one side, and suspicious of the other, which she had every reason to be. It made her mind very complex, extremely clear, strong and vigourous.”

    As well as The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, and The Question of Separatism, Mrs. Jacobs wrote other books, including: Cities and the Wealth of Nations; The Girl on the Hat, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue; A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska; The Hannah Breece Story; and, The Nature of Economies.

    Mrs. Jacobs was taken aback that her book The Question of Separatism was not well received by some Canadians. She wrote that Quebec would be better off and more vital economy outside of Canada.

    “I don’t turn up my nose at people feeling emotional about things,” she was quoted.

    “Emotion is valid. But I’m surprised at how emotional people get about Quebec.”

    Her story of A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska is a book about her great aunt in turn-of-the century Alaska. The Girl on the Hat, written for her grand child, Caitlin, is the story of a resourceful girl named Tina who is two inches tall.

    The central premise of her latest book, The Nature of Economies, is that economics is a web of connected forces subject to the same laws as all other living things in nature.

    At the time in March, 2000, she told The Star’s Judy Stoffman: “This will be a radical idea to those who think of human beings as being outside nature. Human beings are neither adversaries of or the inevitable masters of nature. They live by the same processes as all nature.”

    Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Jacobs continued to live in her three-storey brick house on Albany Ave., a tree-lined street in the Annex neighbourhood she helped preserve.

    She wrote in an upstairs office on a typewriter, refusing to use a computer. A son, Jim, an inventor, lived close by and another son, Ned, worked for the Vancouver Parks Board and is a musician, and a daughter Burgin, is an artist and lives in New Denver. B.C.

    The shelves of her study were not filled with books about economics or cities, but with writings on chaos theory and the sciences, subjects which stimulated her own thinking.

    Shortly after writing The Nature of Economies, she was quoted as saying: “I think I’m living in a marvellous age when great change is occur ring. We now see that there is no straight-line cause and effect; things are connected by webs.

    “This understanding comes from advances in the life-sciences, and it opens up the possibility of understanding all kinds of things we haven’t understood before. I think it’s very exciting.”

    As for her own life, she said the following: “Really, I’ve had a very easy life.

    “By easy I don’t mean just lying around, but I haven’t been put upon, really. And it’s been luck mostly. Being brought up in a time when women weren’t put down, that’s luck. Being in a family where I wasn’t put down, that’s luck. Finding the right man to marry, that’s the best luck! Having nice children, healthy children, that’s luck.

    “All these lucky things.”

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    NYC in particular owes a huge debt to Jane Jacobs ...

    Healthy Cities, Urban Theory, and Design:

    The Power of Jane Jacobs

    Photo credit: Maggie Steber,
    Planning Magazine,
    September 1986.

    Welcome to the Jane Jacobs HOMEPAGE

    Stroll through any city -- observe the variety of smells, noises, and activities of its residents. Now imagine a city without any people. Would the city still have the same smells, sounds, and hubbub of vibrant human interaction?

    In order to create "healthy" communities -- communities that are economically, socially, politically, and environmentally vibrant -- as planners we must design and build with the people and all of their various activities, values, and influences in mind. The student work in this exhibit represents our reflections on and reactions to Jane Jacobs' ideas and activism regarding what must be done to create vibrant, healthy communities.

    We offer our interpretation of Jane Jacobs' contributions to the field of urban planning in honor of her selection as the recipient of the 1996 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture at the University of Virginia. As you explore our projects and the World Wide Web page, we invite you to consider the elements that you believe are necessary for a healthy community.

  4. #4


    One of the two greatest urban theorists of the Twentieth Century, though I take issue with her characterization as an "expert." It was precisely her freedom from the bogus expertise of city planners that allowed her to see through the bs and be effective.

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    I like the last line.

    Steve Munro weighs in:

    Last night, Jane Jacobs died at Toronto Western Hospital. There is a good, long article about her on the Star’s website.

    I first met Jane in the early days of Streetcars for Toronto. David Gurin, then a researcher working for the US Senate committee investigating the role of the auto industry in destroying American transit systems, came to Toronto to see how we had saved our streetcars. He was a friend of Jane’s, and the three of us lunched near Bloor and Avenue Road.

    Jane was a presence for decades in Toronto who kept popping up here and there (usually “there” — she always seemed to be off at some other meeting than the one I was at) with simple, clear words about what Toronto as a City could be despite the worst excesses of our so-called leaders.

    Last April, I was privileged to receive the Jane Jacobs Prize in recognition of years of transit advocacy. To be associated with such a luminary as Jane is a huge honour and it links my own work with that of many other people who make a difference in how our city has grown. When the award winners gather and I hear stories of what others have done, somehow the battles to make the Queen car run properly don’t seem quite as heroic.

    That’s what makes cities great: people who care about the place they live, how it works, why it works, what makes a neighbourhood rather than a bunch of buildings.

    Last year sitting on the podium during the award ceremony, I had the joy of watching as Jane skewered David Miller with a diatribe against his “North York Planning Department”. Few people could get away with that, and it’s a measure of our city that we have a Mayor who would sit and listen to Jane. It’s been a while.

    Jane’s advice won’t be there in person any more to decry an over-large condo tower or a ludicrous road project or to talk about the role of communities. Those of us who remain will carry Jane’s torch even if our comic timing and acid wit may not match hers.

    Somewhere in the clouds, Robert Moses is trying to build an expressway network and he’s just discovered that Jane has arrived to defeat him, again.

  6. #6


    May she rest in peace
    We owe her for stopping the boondoggle of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Without her, Soho, and parts of the Village and Tribeca would not exist.

  7. #7


    I read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" when I was maybe 15 or 16 years old (about a million years ago). It turned up at my school library. I can´t remember why in the world I chose to read it. Maybe it was the word "death" that did it. But to this day...I can still remember passages of it.

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    Seems fitting on the occasion of Jane Jacobs' death to hear from JB on this:

    JB's Thoughts

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    Attached tonight to the front door of her old home (555 Hudson St., Manhattan) is a flower bouquet and this note: "From this house in 1961 a housewife changed the world."
    Last edited by ManhattanKnight; April 27th, 2006 at 05:57 PM.

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    The Gutter Salutes : Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

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    And CURBED :

    Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006

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    Jane Jacobs, Urban Activist, Is Dead at 89

    Steve Payne for The New York Times

    The author Jane Jacobs on the porch
    of her home in Toronto, June 9, 2003.

    April 25, 2006

    Jane Jacobs, the writer and thinker who brought penetrating eyes and ingenious insight to the sidewalk ballet of her own Greenwich Village street and came up with a book that challenged and changed the way people view cities, died today in Toronto, where she lived. She was 89.

    She died at a Toronto hospital, said a distant cousin, Lucia Jacobs, who gave no specific cause of death.

    In her book "Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities. At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.

    Ms. Jacobs's thesis was supported and enlarged by her deep, eclectic reading. But most compelling was her description of the everyday life she witnessed from her home above a candy store at 555 Hudson Street.

    She puts out her garbage, children go to school, the drycleaner and barber open their shops, housewives come out to chat, longshoremen visit the local bar, teenagers return from school and change to go out on dates, and another day is played out. Sometimes odd things happen: a bagpiper shows up on a February night, and delighted listeners gather around. Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone.

    "People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is," Ms. Jacobs wrote. "I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers descriptions of rhinoceroses."

    Some critics used adjectives like "triumphant" and "seminal" to describe the book. Wolf Von Eckardt, writing in The Washington Post, observed that it had " proved more important than all the statistical studies of all our myriad urban centers."

    Others, not a few of whom had an ax to grind, were less kind. Lewis Mumford, the eminent critic and social historian whom Ms. Jacobs eviscerated in the book, suggested in a review in The New Yorker that she had displayed "esthetic philistinism with a vengeance."

    Lloyd Rodwin, a professor at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1961, praised the book as "a brashly impressive tour de force" but saw "transparent gaps and blind spots, such as her blasé misunderstandings of theory."

    The battles she ignited are still being fought, and the criticism was perhaps inevitable, given that such an ambitious work was produced by somebody who had not finished college, much less become an established professional in the field. Indisputably, the book was as radically challenging to conventional thinking as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which helped engender the environmental movement, would be the next year, and Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," which deeply affected perceptions of relations between the sexes, would be in 1963.

    Like these two writers, Ms. Jacobs was able to summon a freshness of perspective. Some dismissed it as amateurism, but to many others it was a point of view that made new ideas not only thinkable but suddenly and eminently reasonable.

    "When an entire field is headed in the wrong direction, when the routine application of mainstream thinking has produced disastrous results as I think was true of planning and urban policy in the 1950's, then it probably took someone from outside to point out the obvious," Alan Ehrenhalt wrote in 2001 in Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association.

    "That is what Jane Jacobs did 40 years ago" he said.

    Ms. Jacob's critique of the nation's cities is often grouped with the work of other writers who in the 1960's shook the foundations of American society: Paul Goodman's attack on schooling; Ralph Nader's barrage against the auto industry, and Malcolm X's grim tour of America's racial divide, among others.

    Ms. Jacobs did not limit her impact to words. In 1961, she and other screaming protesters were removed by the police from a City Planning Commission hearing after they had leapt from their seats and rushed the podium. In 1968, she was arrested on charges of second-degree riot and criminal mischief in disrupting a public meeting on the construction of an expressway, which would have sliced across Lower Manhattan and displaced hundreds of families and businesses. The police said she had tried to tear up the stenographer's transcript tape.

    Ms. Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968 out of opposition to the Vietnam War and to shield her two draft-age sons from military duty. But she quickly enlisted in Toronto's urban battles. No sooner had she arrived than she led a battle to stop a freeway there.

    Ms. Jacobs became a beloved intellectual pioneer characterized by a dumpling face, sneakers, an impish smile, bangs and owlish glasses. But Roger Starr, a former New York City housing administrator and sometime opponent of Ms. Jacobs, keenly noted the steel just beneath her folksiness.

    "What a dear, sweet character she isn't," he said.

    After she was removed from the city council hearing in 1961, her own words underlined her feistiness. "We had been ladies and gentlemen and only got pushed around."

    But fighting with government, even being arrested with Susan Sontag and Allen Ginsberg in an anti-draft protest, was something she said she had repeatedly been forced into by "outrageous" governmental actions.

    "I hate the government for making my life absurd," she said in an interview with the journal Government Technology in 1998.

    What she most hated was taking time away from her writing, which she said was her way of thinking. And in at least five distinct fields of inquiry, she thought deeply and innovatively: urban design, urban history, regional economics, the morality of the economy and the nature of economic growth.

    Her major books followed a logical progression, each leading naturally to the next. From writing about how people functioned within cities, she analyzed how cities function within nations, how nations function with one another, how everyone functions in a world of conflicting moral principles, and, finally, how economies grow like biological organisms.

    A small book in 1980 arguing for Quebec separatism created a stir in Canada, while a memoir, which she edited, of her great-aunt's experience as a school teacher in rural Alaska impressed reviewers with its homespun wisdom in 1996.

    But it is "Death and Life," published by Random House, that rocked the planning and architectural establishment and continues to influence a third generation of students who can still find the book in college bookstores.

    On one level, it represented the first liberal attack on the liberal idea of urban renewal. At the same time, The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw an old-fashioned vision of community that he compared to Thornton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners. Ms. Jacobs herself thought the book's continuing appeal was that it plumbed the depths of human nature like a good novel.

    Herbert Muschamp, The Times's chief architecture critic at the time, wrote in 2003 that Ms. Jacobs's book was "one of 20th-century architecture's most traumatic events," in part because Ms. Jacobs was dismissive about the importance of design. In recent years, she had become an inspiration to architects and planners who espouse what they call the "New Urbanism," an effort to promote social interaction by incorporating such Jacobean features as ground-floor retail in suburban developments.

    Patrick Pinnell, an architect associated with this school, said "Death and Life" represented almost the last expression of optimism about American cities. As early as 1974, John E. Zuccotti, then chairman of the New York City Planning Commission, called Ms. Jacobs a prophet and himself a "neo-Jacobean" when he announced a smaller-scale, more sensitive urban planning approach.

    Ms. Jacobs, whose father was a family physician and mother a schoolteacher, was born Jane Butzner on May 4, 1916, in Scranton, Pa., in what she described as a stagnant anthracite-coal-mining region. She remembered being something of a troublemaker in school, engaging in pranks like blowing air into paper bags in the lunchroom and loudly popping them. She preferred to read books surreptitiously to listening to the teacher.

    In an interview in Azure magazine in 1997, Ms. Jacobs recounted her habit of carrying on imaginary conversations with Thomas Jefferson while running errands. When she could think of nothing more to tell Jefferson, she replaced him with Benjamin Franklin.

    "Like Jefferson, he was interested in lofty things, but also in nitty-gritty, down-to-earth details," she said, "such as why the alley we were walking through wasn't paved, and who would pave it if it were paved. He was interested in everything, so he was a very satisfying companion."

    Years later, she realized that she had developed her talent of working through difficult ideas in simple terms by practicing them on her imaginary Franklin. She also acquired another inner companion through Alfred Duggan, an English historical novelist. He was Cerdic, a Saxon chieftain. Years later, she continued to chat with him while doing housework.

    "There were only two things in the entire house that were familiar to him," she wrote, "the fire (although he didn't understand the chimney), and the sword," a Civil War souvenir. "Everything else had to be explained to him."

    She did not want to go to college, and took an unpaid position as assistant to the women's editor at The Scranton Tribune. In 1934, she moved to New York to join her sister who was six years older and had a job in the home furnishings department at the Abraham and Strauss department store in Brooklyn. The sisters lived on the top floor of a six-story walkup in Brooklyn Heights.

    Each day, Ms. Jacobs got on the subway and arbitrarily chose a stop to look for a job. Because she liked the sound of Christopher Street, she got off there and found an apartment in Greenwich Village and soon after a job, as a secretary in a candy manufacturing company.

    She worked as a secretary for five years. The sisters did not have much money and sometimes lived on pablum, the baby formula, and bananas, Ms. Jacobs said in an interview with Metropolis Magazine in 2001.

    She began writing articles right away, first for a metals trade paper. She sold a series of articles to Vogue about different areas of the city, like the fur district, earning $40 for each at a time when she was making $12 a week as a secretary. She wrote Sunday feature stories for The New York Herald Tribune and articles for Q Magazine on manhole covers, among other things.

    While working fulltime, Ms. Jacobs attended Columbia University's School of General Studies for two years and took courses in geology, zoology, law, political science and economics. In 1944, Ms. Jacobs, who was working for the Office of War Information, and her two roommates had a party in their apartment. One of the guests was Robert Hyde Jacobs Jr., an architect who specialized in hospital design. They met in April and married in May.

    Ms. Jacobs told Azure that she would have written no books without her husband's encouragement. It was he who decided that the family should move to Toronto in 1968 after both their sons said they would go to jail rather than serve in Vietnam. Mr. Jacobs died in 1996. Ms. Jacobs is survived by her sons James, of Toronto, and Ned, of Vancouver; her daughter, Burgin Jacobs, of New Denver, British Columbia; and one granddaughter. In 1952, Ms. Jacobs got a job as an editor at Architectural Forum, where she stayed 10 years. This gave her a perch from which to observe urban renewal projects. In a visit to Philadelphia, she noticed that the streets of a project were deserted while an older, nearby street was crowded.

    "So, I got very suspicious of this whole thing," she said in an interview with The Toronto Star in 1997. "I pointed that out to the designer, but it was absolutely uninteresting to him. How things worked didn't interest him.

    "He wasn't concerned about its attractiveness to people. His notion was totally esthetic, divorced from everything else."

    Her doubts increased after William Kirk, the head worker of Union Settlement in East Harlem, taught her new ways of seeing neighborhoods. She came to see prevalent planning notions, which involved bulldozing low-rise housing in poor neighborhoods and building tall apartment buildings surrounded by open space to replace them, as a superstition akin to early 19th-century physicians' belief in bloodletting.

    "There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder," she wrote in "Death and Life," "and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served."

    William H. Whyte, editor of Fortune and author of books about urban life as well as his celebrated "The Organization Man" in 1956, asked Ms. Jacobs to write an article for Fortune on urban downtowns in 1958. Her essay, which was reprinted in "The Exploding Metropolis" (Doubleday, 1958), turned out to be a trial run for her book.

    "Designing a dream city is easy," she concluded. "Rebuilding a living one takes imagination."

    The Fortune article caught the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which offered a grant in 1958 to write about cities. Two grants and three years later, she produced her manuscript on the Remington typewriter that she used until her death.

    "Death and Life" made four recommendations for creating municipal diversity:
    1. A street or district must serve several primary functions.
    2. Blocks must be short.
    3. Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals.
    4. Population must be dense.

    These seemingly simple notions represented a major rethinking of modern planning. They were coupled with fierce condemnations of the writings of the planners Sir Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, as well as those of the architect Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, who championed their ideal of graceful towers rising over exquisite open spaces.

    Mr. Mumford held his fire for a year before replying in a New Yorker article that he later considered too mild. Either he or his editors gave the article the sardonic title, "Home Remedies for Urban Cancer."

    Mr. Mumford wrote, "Like a construction gang bulldozing a site clean of all habitations, good or bad, she bulldozes out of existence every desirable innovation in urban planning during the last century, and every competing idea, without even a pretense of critical evaluation."

    Her complete dismissal of zoning in cities caused Robert Fulford, a columnist for The Financial Times of Canada, to observe in The New York Times Book Review that single-use zoning was the principal activity of city planners.

    "It was as if she had somehow tried to persuade dentists that filling teeth did more harm than good," he wrote.

    Even the architecture critic Paul Goldberger, while expressing profound admiration for Ms. Jacobs in a Times article in 1996, suggested that she may have overstated the importance of the physical form of cities.

    "Sometimes big, ugly high-rise towers work just fine," he wrote.

    Ms. Jacobs's next book, "The Economy of Cities" (Random House, 1969) challenged the ideas that cities were established on a rural economic base; rather, she suggested, rural economies have been built directly through city economies. The New Yorker called the book "radiant with ideas," while National Review praised it for formulating "a badly needed urban myth."

    Her next work was a small book, "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle for Sovereignty" (Random House, 1980). It argued that Canada and Quebec would be better off without each other, on the general grounds that small is better.

    In 1984, she delved more deeply into economics and cities with "Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life" (Random House, 1984). She contended that national governments undermine the economy of cities, which she sees as the natural engines of economic growth.

    Her "Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics" (Vintage, 1994), looks at the moral underpinnings of work by examining different value systems. "The Nature of Economies" (Modern Library, 2000) likens economic activity to an ecosystem. Her last book, "Dark Age Ahead" (Random House, 2004), argues that North American culture is collapsing, then suggests ways to avert that result.

    In her last years, Canadians held conferences to honor Ms. Jacobs, and Maclean's magazine, the Canadian newsweekly, hailed her as "a lioness in winter." For New Yorkers, she lived on in the famous photo of her with a beer and cigarette in the White Horse tavern in Greenwich Village, as well as memories of her plotting municipal mischief at the Red Lion, another Village hangout. To generations of planners, architects and students of cities, Ms. Jacobs remains a seminal influence.

    She perhaps perceived of herself as an intellectual adventurer ready and able to follow her quixotic, often brilliant instincts into ever more fascinating terrain. In "Systems of Survival," one of her characters worries that he is not qualified.

    "Why not us?" replies the man who has invited the group together. "If more qualified people are up to the same thing, more power to them. But we don't know that, do we?"

    Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

  13. #13


    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1
    Seems fitting on the occasion of Jane Jacobs' death to hear from JB on this:

    JB's Thoughts

    Sad. Jane Jacobs lived a full life. JB could have been the next Jane Jacobs, but was robbed of his opportunity to do so.

  14. #14
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    555 Hudson Street

    Jane Jacobs' old house, 555 Hudson Street, where she wrote "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." I happened to be in the neighborhood yesterday afternoon and I saw this bouquet of flowers and card on the front door. The card reads, "Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006. From this house, in 1961, a housewife changed the world."

  15. #15


    Despite the fact that this section of Hudson Street is now, essentially, a three-lane highway, I'm sure Jane would have been pleased with the little bench, the tree, and all of the bikes parked in front of her building. Greenwich Village is still one of the world's great urban neighborhoods thanks to her work...
    What was the street configuration when Jacobs lived there?

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