The Death and Life of a Great Person
April 25, 2006 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Chuckles' link title is a reference to Jacobs' most recent book which was insightful and introspective but sadly far less proscriptive than her earlier work.

Any serious urban studies people who can put together more links for those of us who only knew a bit about her?
posted by allan at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by Capn at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2006

A huge influence on me, a startlingly original (and largely self-taught) thinker, and the deepest kind of patriot.

posted by adamgreenfield at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2006

Wow. She was a hero of mine. I first read 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' when, as a naive suburban kid, I was wandering around Paris, taking a quarter off from college. It changed the way I thought about cities forever -- made me see then as alive and vital. Her forward to that book here.
posted by tula at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by schustafa at 10:16 AM on April 25, 2006

Sorry to hear that; she was one of my heroes. That said:

Chuckles' link title is a reference to Jacobs' most recent book

That's nice, but unless you happen to have her latest book at the forefront of your consciousness, it's a completely misleading and useless link title. What, are you too cool to call the post "Jane Jacobs dies" so that people who are interested might actually click on it? It's not worth dragging to MetaTalk, but it sure is annoying.
posted by languagehat at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by shoepal at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2006

Toronto Star obituary, a long one.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2006

ah dang.

posted by mathowie at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2006

I read the Death and Life of Great American Cities and thought it was filled with sloppy thinking and sloppy writing. The content of the book could have been condensed into a long essay. Hugely overrated.
posted by driveler at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2006

A handle has never been more accurate.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by bru at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by jimmythefish at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by russilwvong at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2006

Death and life... is, to me, a lot like On the road; a huge, substantial, important impact despite being poorly written. Still, we all owe her a great debt of gratitude, not least in NYC and Toronto, where her activism thwarted some really, really bad ideas.
posted by docgonzo at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2006

Globe and Mail obit.

Via Treehugger, a 2000 interview with Jacobs by James Howard Kunstler (he of The Geography of Nowhere).

Wikipedia entry.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by chunking express at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2006

I hope she gives Robert Moses an exploding cigar and a wedgee up in heaven.

posted by Skygazer at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by Yeomans at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs has been brought up numerous times on MetaFilter,

As the subject of posts:

sprawl suburbs (2004-05)

Thinking Urbanly (2005-04)
Jane Jacobs wins book award
and in comments:

Utopian Architecture (2000-11)
As a counter example, of course :P
20 best neighborhoods in North America (2004-11)

Feral Cities (2005-01)
As counter example, again.
The City (1939) (2005-01)
As counter example, again!
Wilshire Boulevard (2006-03)
"Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles is an example of one grand exercise after another in superficially contrived distinction, for several miles of innately monotonous office buildings" - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
(a bit late for a [more inside]...)
posted by Chuckles at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2006

She is also the correct answer to many questions.
posted by Chuckles at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2006


A huge loss. She provided a sane, humanist voice, and one that is badly needed.
posted by jokeefe at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2006

Strangely, the comprehensive Toronto Star obit doesn't mention Dark Age Ahead at all; seems someone forgot to update the profile before publication, which lists 2001's The Nature Of Economies as her "latest book."

Dark Age Ahead was published in 2004, and seems somewhat at odds with her quote about "living in a marvelous age when great change is occuring." Having seen a couple of television interviews from that era (including one on Space, of all channels), it seemed obvious that though she may not have had much time left, she was just as vigorous intellectually as when she wrote Great American Cities.

Whatever you might think about her writing style or her ideas on urban planning, she has inspired entire generations of urban planners to think differently about cities, and to include phrases like "pedestrian-friendly," "high-density" and "mixed-use" into their vocabularies. For this alone, she will always be remembered fondly.
posted by chrominance at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2006

posted by maledictory at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2006

As someone who walks through Washington Square Park every day, I will always bless her name for helping to abort this monstrosity.
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:50 AM on April 25, 2006

As soon as I saw this was a one-link thread to the CBC, I figured she had died. Much respect to Jane Jacobs. Perhaps the condos by the lake proved too much to take?
posted by stinkycheese at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2006

Toronto has a lot to thank Jane Jacobs for, but honestly, I think neglect played as important a role in saving the city from disastrous planning decisions as activism did. Consider The Expressways of Toronto (Built and Unbuilt) and Network 2011 -- To think of what could have been. The reason we haven't made more transportation mistakes is that we haven't made many decisions at all.

include phrases like "pedestrian-friendly," "high-density" and "mixed-use" into their vocabularies.

Sadly, there isn't much actual enthusiasm for the meaning behind those ideas.. I have a mind to go take some pictures to illustrate what I mean. Hmm.. (I'm no photographer)
posted by Chuckles at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2006

Sadly, there isn't much actual enthusiasm for the meaning behind those ideas.

I wonder if that's really the case, or if there's just been a horrendous amount of lagtime? Remember, we're talking about government here, and effective or not, government has never been seen as particularly quickfooted. Certainly I hear those particular phrases thrown around a lot more in the discourse in Toronto, though only with regards to local projects—the St. Clair streetcar and the Richmond Street revitalization, for example. Time will tell if planners have really embraced the ideas or if they're just so many meaningless buzzwords, but the fact that they're seen as good ideas at all is a sign of progress.
posted by chrominance at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2006

I'd be a fool to claim I know one way or the other, chrominance, but.. Look at the atrocity going on down at the old railway lands around skydome (City Place, or something like that), or the equally atrocious condo island around King and Sherbourne. Those are just new St. James Towns in waiting..

In fact, straight from that wikipedia page, and I had nothing to do with it:
St. James Town was originally designed to house young "swinging single" middle class residents but the apartments lacked appeal and the area quickly became much poorer.
It is an interesting dichotomy though.. I would much rather shop in the St. James Town Food Basics than the Spadina/Bloor Dominion. The high density around Spadina and Bloor was planned better (or not at all, which might come to the same thing :P), but the people aren't as nice..
posted by Chuckles at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs is cool because she wrote Life and Death back when no one was talking like that. Planners thought concentric circles were a good way to think about cities, freeways called "195," were getting built so people could bypass downtowns, and people were getting evicted in the name of "slum clearance." (On preview, they were getting evicted to build things that look like St. James Town.)

As I heard the story, the city planning profession pooh poohed her book because she was just a journalist, and all she'd done was just look around -- but she eventually affected the entire course of the profession. \o/
posted by salvia at 12:42 PM on April 25, 2006

I missed this (because of the title) until the double. How very sad that she's gone.
posted by OmieWise at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by minkll at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by amro at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2006

I am glad for her time here for the reason banishedimmortal mentioned.

Ireccomend this to any and all who are interested in or admire Jane. Most exciting play about urban planning you will ever see and it stars Ms. Jacobs (sorta).
posted by piratebowling at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by bshort at 1:23 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by mrbula at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by hattifattener at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2006

A sad day. I hope her ideas outlive her long enough to see suburbia die.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2006

posted by Urban Hermit at 6:14 PM on April 25, 2006

True, Chuckles, though I'm sincerely hoping that's more because of developer influence on the city than planners actively deciding condo islands are the best solution for the city.

Though, to be honest, I do have my own issues with urban planners. You'll note the reference in the St. James Town article to Le Corbusier; he is, in my mind, the antithesis to Jacobs, and a perfect example of the "master planner" from earlier in the century. How odd that the meticulous Garden City developments from the middle of the century have failed where the less rigorously planned early suburbs and downtowns from the turn of the century have succeeded.

But Jacobs was never really a proponent of that sort of "everything accounted for" urban planning; she seemed to recognize that what gave a neighbourhood its vitality was the presence of spontaneity. We still live in an age where cities are still given the short end of the stick politically speaking—especially in Toronto, home of political and bureaucratic gridlock when it comes to major urban projects. You can't simply say, "we're going to put up some buildings and tweak things a little when we figure out how people use this neighbourhood," or "wait twenty years when the secondary tenants start taking over the older buildings." Everything must be justified and budgeted for. But I wonder if there would be such an impetus on the part of planners to figure out every last detail if not for the bureaucratic pressures.

I'm not a planner myself, though I know a couple of keen, not-yet-crushed urban planning students about to enter the field. Getting back to the original point I was making, all I can tell you is that they definitely know their Jacobs and appreciate her immense impact on the profession.
posted by chrominance at 7:24 PM on April 25, 2006

Here is a fantastic interview with Jacobs conducted by James Howard Kunstler (author of The Geography of Nowhere) in 2000.

Part 1
Part 2
posted by deafmute at 9:25 PM on April 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

True, Chuckles, though I'm sincerely hoping that's more because of developer influence on the city than planners actively deciding condo islands are the best solution for the city.

Agreed. There is a universe of difference between St. James town and private, staggered condominium (as opposed to rental apartment) development. I don't know if allowing all the development that has gone on lately is a fantastic idea (especially the cityplace stuff), but it will always be 1 million percent better than St. James town and the like (says me, with no hyperbole). The development on the East side of the city (Jarvis to Sherbourne, Queen to Front) is actually quite nice in parts, and being done in moderation (at least until the new monstrosity at Jarvis and Adelaide goes up).

I regret quibbling though, in a thread about Jacobs, as I'm quite a fan as well, despite disagreeing with her on some points. I went to see her speak a number of times, and have a signed copy of Death and Life on my shelf.
posted by loquax at 9:42 PM on April 25, 2006

Truly a fantastic interview deafmute!
(edit: well, I'm not too happy with the following pull quotes anymore, but I guess I'll post anyway..)
JJ: ... And I began to notice how everything was being covered up and I thought that was kinda sick.

JHK: So the whole streamlining of the 30s bugged you?

JJ: That’s right. So I remember very well what was in my mind "that we become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things work." It was those skirts on the locomotives that I was thinking about and how this had extended to "we didn’t care how our cities worked anymore." We didn’t care to show where the entrances were in buildings and things like that. That’s all I meant. It was not some enormous comment on abstract American society. And I thought this is a real decadence of some sort.
Dark Age Ahead..

The discussion of peoples emotional attachment to their ideas was really brilliant:
JJ: ... there are two ways you encounter things in the world that are different. One is everything that comes in reinforces what you already believe and everything that you know. The other thing is that you stay flexible enough or curious enough and maybe unsure of yourself enough, or may be you are more sure of yourself—I don’t know which it is—that the new things that come in keep reforming your world view. ... And a lot of these people—what I am getting at—they learn something and they are so sure of it and it’s a terrible threat to them—an emotional threat. I don’t think it’s so much of an intellectual threat even. But an emotional threat that their whole worldview will have to go through that upsetting thing of being confused.
In a comment in an old post, Minds of Our Own, I said:
What impressed me is the way the children would latch on to an idea (we could call it belief, but that has its own baggage) based on the information they were given in class. Even though they could reason fairly well, they would stall when they realized that their reasoning was in conflict with the idea that they had interpolated from the lesson. Many believed that the bulb holder was an integral part of getting the bulb to light up, for example. Once they reached that kind of impasse they didn't have a strong instinct to get down to experimenting to see what would actually work.
There is something to this knowledge/emotion thing that needs exploration... Of course this is just reinforcing my previously held ideas, and I guess that is bad :P

Finally, the idea about collective mood and generational movements:
JJ: Well, I don’t’ know whether we will because of the oil markets or what. But I know things won’t go on as they are now. People who try to predict the future by extrapolating in a line of more of what exists—they are always wrong. I am not saying how it is going to go. But it is not going to go the same. This is a continuation of what I was actually saying about the revolt against Victorianism. Here comes a generation or two that just can’t stand what the previous generations did. And for whatever reasons it is they want to expunge it. And they are absolutely ruthless with the remnants of it. But I don’t think of it as an economic or political trainwreck. I think of it as one of these great generational upheavals that’s coming. And I think that part of the growing popularity of the New Urbanism is not simply because it is so rational, and not simply because people care so much about community or even understand it, or the relation of sprawl to the ruination of the natural world. But they just don’t like what is around. And they will be ruthless with it.
Great stuff!
posted by Chuckles at 12:05 AM on April 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

A couple more articles from the Toronto Star: TO wore Jacobs as a badge of honour, Jacobs a thinker uncaring of laurels.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:02 AM on April 26, 2006

posted by n_s_1 at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2006

posted by louigi at 3:58 PM on April 26, 2006

Reason has a lot of links.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:01 PM on April 28, 2006

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