Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006

25. April 2006 • Dale Winling
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Urbanist and economic author Jane Jacobs died in Toronto this morning at the age of 89.

Jacobs was the author of several books, including The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, and Cities and the Wealth of Nations.

She was credited with one of the most forceful indictments of mid-century urban renewal in Death and Life, which is now a canonical work in discussing urban revitalization. Its emphasis on mixed uses, diversity, and density in cities are now axioms in much of contemporary urban planning.

Online interviews with Jacobs are available here here and here.

  1. Obviously the only appropriate way to spend the evening is by raising a pint either on your front porch or at your nearest neighborhood pub.

    Here’s to Jane.

       —Murph    Apr. 26 '06 - 02:50AM    #
  2. Isn’t the fight she started back in the early 60’s the same one still being fought in Ann Arbor now?

    And which side can claim to be her ‘true’ heirs—the ‘density party’ or the ‘preservation party’?

       —mw    Apr. 26 '06 - 04:08PM    #
  3. She’ll be missed. Her book ‘Death & Life of Great American Cities’ was an inspiring book to me, and many others.

    And mw, neither side you describe gets it; the true path lies between the two. We can preserve our historic housing types while at the same time increasing the density (and “eyes on the street”) of our downtown. The two need not conflict.

       —KGS    Apr. 26 '06 - 04:51PM    #
  4. mw, the fight she was fighting in the 1960s is the one still being fought in city planning everywhere.

    And, as Robert Caro, biographer for Jane’s arch-nemesis Robert Moses, said in an interview yesterday, it’s not that she started the fight – it’s just that she was the first person to speak eloquently enough to win a skirmish.

       —Murph    Apr. 26 '06 - 05:13PM    #
  5. A huge loss for everyone who lives in an urban setting. She will be missed.


       —alanb    Apr. 26 '06 - 06:58PM    #
  6. I’d wager Jacobs abhored the need to build up because of the protectionism of the historic districts. Even in Death and Life where she wrote of the need for aged buildings, she was critical of “museum pieces” and espoused an organic development and alteration of the built environment.

    Something that is still amazing to me is that there is not a single photo in Death and Life. Jacobs did not think that any single urban form was appropriate for all cities and certainly thought that uniformity—in age, in design, etc.—was bad.

       —Dale    Apr. 26 '06 - 06:59PM    #
  7. Her eloquent book, The Death and Life of American Cities, has provided me with inspiration and is a catalyst to me to keep on working to try and make Ann Arbor a great city. She didn’t waste our time with an oversupply of data and charts, but spoke from the heart, and obviously actually LIVED her work. She is a great person, and will be missed. We all are very lucky indeed that she left behind her wonderful work.

       —Leah    Apr. 26 '06 - 07:31PM    #
  8. Obviously the only appropriate way to spend the evening is by raising a pint either on your front porch or at your nearest neighborhood pub.

    Here’s to Jane.

    I had no idea how true this was until I read the obit. If not for her work in Toronto my home there would have been mere feet from an expressway, if that home would have existed at all.

    I’ll raise a few Canadian pints first chance I get.

       —FAA    Apr. 26 '06 - 08:47PM    #
  9. A somewhat ambivalent tribute to Jane Jacobs in today’s NYT:

    (You need to be registered to read it—registration is free, by the way, but here are a few snippets:

    “She could not see that the same freeway that isolated her beloved, working-class North End from downtown Boston also protected it from gentrification.”

    And a description of contemporary SoHo as an “open-air mall”:

    “The old buildings are still there, the streets are once again paved in cobblestone, but the rich mix of manufacturers, artists and gallery owners has been replaced by homogenous crowds of lemming-like shoppers. Nothing is produced there any more. It is a corner of the city that is nearly as soulless, in its way, as the superblocks that Ms. Jacobs so reviled.”

    An interesting read. The author suggests that Jacobs played an important role, but there are still questions that need answering.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Apr. 30 '06 - 07:57PM    #
  10. YUA – thanks for the link.

    Mr. Moses, tellingly, once dismissed her and her ilk as “nobody but a bunch of mothers.” He was partly right. By standing up for the intricate, individual relationships that define the inner life of cities, she allowed a generation to challenge the authority of patronizing — and uniformly male — city planners in gray suits.

    Of course, Robert Moses was the Parks Commissioner for New York State. Your average young urban planner nowadays is more likely to fall into the other trap the writer mentions – idolizing Jane and fetishizing the neighborhood or district – than to follow in Moses’ steps of the egotistical monument builder.

       —Murph    May. 1 '06 - 02:53AM    #