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A tribute from Jason Epstein in The New York Review of Books:
The male revolutionary leaders of the 20th century were mostly monsters, responsible for untold death and destruction. But the century also produced an extraordinary group of revolutionary women whose accomplishments improved life for others: Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan, Rosa Parks, Julia Child, and Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Like the others, Jane was essentially self-educated, for there was no one to teach these women what they knew. Perhaps for this reason they could penetrate the miasma of professionalism that shielded institutionalized malpractice. What these women had in common was a genius for the day-to-day arrangements on which everything else depends, arrangements which their male counterparts did so much to destroy.


We can only hope that future generations will be blessed with urban enthusiasts like Jane Jacobs. She began speaking her mind at a time when master planning consultants were sketching utopias on pads as they peered down from their airplane window seats. She didn’t give a hoot for these theorists and academic blow-it-alls. And she battled fat-cat developers who didn’t give a hoot for the residents of the communities they were aiming to destroy.

She found that the micro view was the best view and the only human way to perceive the infinitely complex patterns and relationships within a lively neighborhood and between neighbors– block by block, door by door. Real people didn’t exist on a mega-map. She counseled that if you lost the human scale, ambience, and spirit– you’d end up with a dingy, angry, frustrated, and despairing population.

A true master of inductive logic in urban planning, she actually cared about people– what they were doing, where they were going– what they wanted. She noticed little things that mattered-- a lot. When neighbors sat out on their front porches or looked out from their front windows from time to time, looking out for one another, street crime dwindled. She threw a spotlight on the obvious and didn’t apologize for sheer practicality. She knew that the physical set-up and design of things affected behavior– for better or worse. This is not a woman who could be prodded into a gated-community.

After her transforming book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," her interests broadened. Her prolific thinking and inquisitiveness brought more questions, conclusions, discoveries, and more questions-- and she admitted to keeping untidy notes. But she would inevitably pull her ideas together with each book: The Economy of Cities (1969), The Question of Separatism (1980), Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984), Systems of Survival (1993), and The Nature of Economies (2000).

The indomitable Jane Jacobs died in Toronto in April, 2006, and will be remembered with affection and gratitude by those she touched– by her words, her books, and her actions. Her verve and intellectual stamina will be greatly missed.

Some words from Jane Jacobs:

"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody."

"Vital cities have marvelous, innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties."

"Whenever and wherever societies have flourished and prospered rather than stagnated and decayed, creative and workable cities have been at the core of the phenomenon."

"In our American cities, we need all kinds of diversity."

"As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning, years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense."


A few words about Jane's final book, in which she got a lot off her chest-- worthwhile criticism from her top-ten list of stupidities hampering the progress of our culture. She was still full of pragmatic insight and wisdom, sifting myth for truth and fiinding 'hollow theories,' 'foregone fiascos,' 'kleptocracy,' and, yes, 'idiocy.'  In her clear and coherent way of writing-- and inimitable voice-- she mounted a well-mannered rant warning of the consequenes of our mass cultural amnesia. So glad she had her final say: she left clear assessments, direction, guidance, and solutions. Let's hope that some of the folks 'in charge' of the mess read it, 'get it,' and weep.


Photo: Chicago's State Street on a winter evening. URBANICITY

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