Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Jane Jacobs 1916-2006
I hate to see a name I recognized accompanied by dates for the first time, the closed parentheses of a life. It means somebody important is gone, and if you wanted to ask them something, it's too late now. Jane Jacobs has been a huge, if indirect, influence on my life for several years. While I'll come right out and confess that I've never read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," her articulation of what went wrong with urban America at midcentury and how to fix it has trickled down to influence where and how I live, what I do with my life, and what kind of country I want to live in, and it's sad to hear she's gone. Ironically, I heard about her death, and heard an interview with her discussing a successful attempt to organize her Toronto neighborhood to stop the demolition of historic housing, as I was taking a spin throught the neighorhood trying to capture yet another demolition on film:
Jacobs is dear to my heart not so much because she wrote about cities, but because she was so often successful in opposing misguided "urban renewal" and preserving what is essential about neighborhood life. Once she even stopped Robert Moses from building an expressway through lower Manhattan! Imagine if that monster had been built, it would have destroyed Downtown more thoroughly than Osama could ever dream of.
Jacobs wrote a lot of stuff you should read, but I'll sum up:
* Density is good, it leads to diverse, interesting places to live.
* A crowded street is safer than an empty one.
* Small businesses give life and charater to a neighborhood
* The car is not necessarily an improvement over walking and public transportation.
Basic stuff, but it certainly was news to the modernist misplanners of midcentury.
I miss her already.