Thursday, April 27, 2006

R.I.P. Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs died at the age of 89. With one book, the Death and Life of American Cities, in 1961, she brought a new point of view to how professional planners and others conceived of cities, by analyzing and expressing what many people felt from their own experience made cities work. Lewis Mumford once advised planners to "make cities for lovers and friends." Jane Jacobs told them how.

She was the principal participant in a panel discussion I saw on C-Span in the past year or so, and her intelligence remained incisive and honed in on what matters. Her last book, Dark Age Ahead, is a chilling but believable prophesy.

My book, The Malling of America, could not have been possible without her work. In it, I quote her comments on Fanueil Hall Marketplace---still among the wisest on the subject of urban malls.

For those who don't know her work, there's a fine capsule biography and description of her books on the web here, and James Howard Kunstler's interview with her here is a treat to read. Judging by her writing, speaking and TV appearances I've seen, she was a lively, humorous (the Pauline Kael of urban critque), compassionate and highly intelligent and perceptive. There's no one who can or will replace her, but we can all still learn from her work.

UPDATE: John King at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a terrific remembrance. He sums up what Jane Jacobs did this way: "The beauty of Jacobs' impact is that she did meticulous observation, then went with her gut. She wasn't an architect or a planner, just a city resident who looked hard at her surroundings and saw that complexity is the spark that endures."

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