Pragmatist, critic, and prose poet.
Jacobs was a supremely confident woman who went willingly anywhere her restless mind led her. She
was a devoted wife and mother of three who wanted nothing else but to keep her family well --and to find time to write. And,
along the way, she stopped a lot of bulldozers and changed the way people see their neighborhoods and cities.
Some of her thoughts:
"I don't want disciples. I want people with independent minds to read my books."
"Cities are living organisms, and their economies are reciprocating systems. If any part of the city's
economy stops, so does the entire system."
"A successful city neighborhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it
is not destroyed by them."
"Ideologies are one of the greatest afflictions because they blind us to seeing what is going on
or to what is being done."
"Planners and architects tend to think in an orderly way. But cities are not orderly places."
"Cities are thoroughly physical places. In seeking understanding of thir behavior we get useful information
by observing what occurs tangibly and physically."
Alexiou writes skillfully of the rich tapestry of Jane Jacob's
life and times-- which is story upon story upon story. Even a reader with no specific interest
in Jacobs might become engrossed in the saga of post-war migration to major cities, urban flight, urban renewal and massive
highway building in mid-century America-- with the key players, just for starters.
"Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary,"
(Rutgers University Press) is a nifty overview of a time in which Jacobs found herself in the midst of furor and furious building,
power plays, head-butting, and battles won with tireless persistence.
As a girl growing up in Scranton Pennsylvania, Jane Isabel Butzner was always thinking about how
things worked. She had nerve from an early age and challenged her teachers when they said something inane. Her spirit of rebellion
came from both sides of her old-line Protestant family.
She reflected: "I was brought up to believe that simple conformity results in stagnation for a society,
and that American progress has been largely owing to the opportunity for experimentation, the leeway given initiative, and
to a gust and freedom for chewing over odd ideas.
"I was taught that the American's right to be a free individual, not at the mercy of the state, was
hard-won and that its price was eternal vigilance. I am grateful for that upbringing."
Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a doctor, nurtured her free spirit and cautioned her not to
accept the unacceptable. Her friends found her clever, funny, and fearless. So it's no wonder that she was to lead marches
in New York City to protest a 'slum' designation for her neighborhood-- including her block-- that was 'cause' for complete
clearance and renewal.
The biographer bases her work on interviews and primary source material and writes with verve and
clarity. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia and a doctorate in the classics from Fordham.