Jane Jacobs: 1916 – 2006

Author of one of my favourite books of all time, and one of the clearest and most original thinkers I’ve ever read. A real loss.

Link: CBC News: Urban thinker Jane Jacobs dies.

Toronto-based urban critic and author Jane Jacobs died Tuesday morning.

Jane
Jacobs, shown in 2004, influenced a generation of urban planners with
her critiques about North American urban renewal policies. (Adrian
Wyld/CP)

Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and most recently, Dark Age Ahead, was 89.

Her powerful critiques about the urban renewal policies of North
American cities have influenced thinking about urban planning for a
generation.

Born May 4, 1916, in Scranton, Penn., Jacobs had made her home in Canada since the late 1960s.

Educated at Columbia University, she met her husband, architect
Robert Jacobs, at the Office of War Information in New York, where she
began writing during the war.

Known for protesting sprawl

The strong themes of her writing and activism included opposition to
expressways, including the Spadina Expressway in Toronto, and the
support of neighbourhoods. Jacobs has been arrested twice while
protesting urban plans she believed to be destructive.

She also explored these ideas in books such as The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations and Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in
1961, questioned the sprawling suburbs that characterized urban
planning, saying they were killing inner cities and discouraging the
economic vitality that springs organically from neighbourhoods.

Inspired ‘Ideas That Matter’ gathering

Jacobs settled in Toronto in 1969. There she supported developments
such as the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, an inner-city development for
people of all income levels.

In 1997, the City of Toronto sponsored a conference entitled Jane
Jacobs: Ideas That Matter, which led to a book of the same name.

Her most recent book, Dark Age Ahead is "a grave warning to a
society losing its memory," jurists said in awarding her the $15,000
Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing in 2005.

"In spare, exquisite prose, Jane Jacobs alerts us to the dangers
facing the family, higher education, science and technology, the
professions, and fiscal accountability. Drawing on history, geography,
and anthropology, this book reflects a lifetime of study and
observation, offering us lessons to avoid decline," the jury said.

Dark Age Ahead finds comparisons between our current North American
culture and European culture before the fall of the Roman Empire and
the subsequent Dark Ages.

Interviewed by Canadian Press when she won the Shaughnessy Cohen
Prize, Jacobs said, "People really know themselves that the dark age is
ahead. They’re worried, and they haven’t articulated it, but they feel
it."

"I think it’s late but we don’t need to go down the drain," she said. "But we will if we aren’t aware. It’s a cautionary book."

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