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Jane Jacobs, a great American woman and the author of the all-time classic book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", died yesterday, just 2 weeks short of her 90th birthday. 

In her writings, Jacobs argued against a sterile, top-down "urban planning" that destroyed vibrancy upon the altar of "efficiency" and "order."  She movingly described cities as HUMAN communities, "characterized by layered complexity and seeming chaos."  Among other things, Jacobs pointed out that sprawling suburbs and exurbs are simply not sustainable, and also a terrible place to live if/when the price of oil skyrocketed.  Hmmm.

Aside from writing about cities and suburbs, Jane Jacobs also turned her attention to broader matters - the future of civilization itself.  In her book, "Dark Age Ahead", Jacobs wrote that "A culture is unsalvageable if stabilizing forces themselves become ruined and irrelevant."  Among these "stabilizing forces," Jacobs highlighted "science and technology," "governmental representation," "higher education," and "family and community."  Today, all of these are arguably under assault by the Bush Administration and Republican-controlled Congress, although they certain are skillful at paying lip service to "family," while they go about trashing all the things that make families strong.

In addition, Jacobs' critique touches on the Bush/neo-con foreign policy, when she writes:

History has repeatedly demonstrated that empires seldom seem to retain sufficient cultural self-awareness to prevent them from overreaching and over grasping.

Sound familiar?  Iraq, anyone?  George W. Bush's complete lack of "cultural self-awareness" (or curiosity)?  The right wing's "overreaching and over grasping" in so many areas?

As with her view of cities and "urban planning," here too Jane Jacobs was a visionary.  As of yesterday, she is no longer with us, but her great work lives on.  Because of that, one thing is for certain: The Death and Life of a Great American Woman shall not soon be forgotten.

P.S.  There's an excellent diary on Jane Jacobs here as well

Originally posted to lowkell on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 06:14 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I missed this yesterday, being away from my computer most of the day.
    Jane Jacobs was a big part of my household--her books anyway. Her work on cities was absolutely fundamental to a number of my research papers, and that ethos kind of infused my childhood.

    Sad to see...somedays it does seem like the world is ending. Better though to pull up our socks and apply what we know--and can learn from people like Jane Jacobs--to make the world a better place. I hope.

    The Constitution is a monumental blessing and its moral guidance in this pluralistic society is its tolerance and understanding for all. Raymond J. Pettine

    by Kirsten on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 06:21:30 AM PDT

  •  Above all (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    matt n nyc

    Jacobs was a humanist - she belived in humans and their potential for good.  But she aslo saw the potential for greious miscalculation in the halls of power.  Her passing at this moment is truly ironic.

    -4.63,-3.54 If the people will lead the leaders will follow

    by calebfaux on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 06:28:18 AM PDT

  •  One problem - if I'm not mistaken she was Canadi (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    -4.63,-3.54 If the people will lead the leaders will follow

    by calebfaux on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 06:31:54 AM PDT

    •  Well, sort of... (4+ / 0-)

      Here are two paragraphs from her bio from Wikipedia:

      Jane Butzner was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to a Jewish family in that overwhelmingly ethnic Catholic city, the daughter of a doctor and a former school teacher and nurse. After graduating from high school, she took an unpaid position as the assistant to the women's page editor at the Scranton Tribune. A year later, in the middle of the Great Depression, she left Scranton for New York City.


      In 1969, she moved to Toronto, where she lived until her death. She decided to leave the United States in part out of her objection to the Vietnam War and due to worry about the fate of her two draft-age sons. She chose Toronto as she found it a pleasant city and its rapid growth meant plenty of work for her architect husband. She quickly became a leading figure in her new city and was involved in stopping the Spadina Expressway. A common theme of her work has been to question whether we are building cities for people or for cars. She has been arrested twice during demonstrations.[3] She also had considerable influence on the regeneration of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, a housing project that is regarded as a great success. She became a Canadian citizen in 1974, and she later told James Howard Kunstler that dual citizenship was not possible at the time, implying that her US citizenship was lost.

  •  Great post (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lowkell, calebfaux

    Thanks for this post here at the KOS. Jane Jacobs, her work, and her life are so important to how architects and urban planners look at the fabric of cities. I was very glad to see your acknowledgement of her passing. And... I very much enjoyed the quote, which, through her infinite wisdom, illuminates something of our own present (president) predicament.

  •  She Was the Greatest Urbanist Ever (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the reminder Lowell.

  •  Timely post (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    if an untimely death -- more than ever, we need activists like Jane Jacobs. With peak oil making us all question the long-term abandonment of our cities, her writings are even more relevant today than they were in the 1960s. And as a community activist who rose to have an affect on communities all over the world, she was a forerunner of the Netroots. If only she could have lived long enough to post here -- or on her own blog -- imagine how much activism she could have inspired.

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