Jane Jacobs

My wife, Environmental Avenger and all-around Sustainable Cities Babe, has been educating me for about ten years on Jane Jacobs and what she has meant to urban planning, urban thinking, urban renewal. It’s been a good but fairly steep learning curve. After all, for this small-town Baptist –especially after spending a dark and deeply annoying decade in Toronto one year – cities were nasty and brutish places where stays should be short. Scrape the grime and the moral sleaze off on your way out. Park your principles. Pick up your smile on the way out the door….

Maybe I’m growing up, though. There are wisecracks about Ottawa as the City That Fun Forgot, but it is a city and I mostly like it here. I also understand better some of the wretched costs of our pursuit of Country Living for Everyone! I still can’t get used to going to a supermarket and knowing nobody there, but when the news of Jane Jacobs’s death came through yesterday, I had sufficient respect for cities, and knew enough about her work to improve them, that I felt a real pang of loss. Diana was her neighbour for awhile in the Annex in Toronto, but I only knew her as a deeply appreciative reader. I had finally read her classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, under professional pressure. (When I worked for Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, I was forced to read all kinds of magnificent stuff; here, we were preparing together for the William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture she was giving in Toronto.) It entirely changed the way I looked at cities and suburbs, it astonished me as the work of one citizen opposed to the way her city (New York, at that time) was developing, and it impressed me with the clarity and power of its writing. Gosh, she was good.

Now she’s gone. She left us with several remarkable books, and her final one, Dark Age Ahead, needs to move to the front of my next-to-read line. Citizen Jane was a ferocious and compelling example of civic activism and intelligence, and we’ll be referring to her for a long time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *