Wednesday, April 26, 2006
R.I.P. Jane Jacobs
I received an email last night alerting me to the death of Jane Jacobs, urban theorist and scholar. I haven't been so saddened in a long, long time, as her death strikes me as a great loss for her fans, this country and the world. I'm not sure where to begin, how exactly to convey why her death has upset me so much or why she was so important to me.
The best place to start is with her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I came to this book in college, and it changed my life, the way that few texts have (the closest competition might be Low Life or The Communist Manifesto). To go all the way back to the beginning, I was born and raised in Philadelphia during the 80s. It was a time of the crack epidemic, rising violence, companies leaving, the culmination of white flight, the MOVE bombing. It was an ugly time, and those of us who lived here, those of us who lived in the big cities of America, were seen as relics, as terrible people, unworthy of a second thought.
It really wasn't until I came across Ms. Jacobs' book that I found someone writing the way I felt. She gave me a feeling of hope, something to fight for, namely the big cities of America that built this country, my city, my Philadelphia. She treated the city as a welcome entity, not something to be bulldozed or escaped or controlled. She pointed out the qualities that make a great city great, from its public spaces to its diversity of uses to its creative energy. She stood up for the people against developers and city planners and other authorities who sought to impose their will on our places of living, working and worshipping.
In short, she was a courageous, brilliant, passionate thinker, writer and planner. I am a cynical, cold-hearted person, and I can say without a doubt that she was one of my few heroes. Hell, I listed her as one of two on my myspace page! She fought for cities when it wasn't popular or easy to do so. I can give no higher praise than to say that she was a fighter, unafraid to get in the ring with anyone, including Robert Moses, the NYC power broker who built Central Park, and Lewis Mumford, the influential urban planner. She created a path for me to follow, armed me with the ideas and heart to work to defend the great cities of the world against its enemies.
In memory of Jane Jacobs, there will be no more posting today, a sort of virtual "moment of silence" for a woman who will be missed greatly here at Pound for Pound. Take the time to go out and buy The Death and Life of the Great American Cities or any of her other works. Buy them at your local independent bookstore, as I could think of no greater tribute to Ms. Jacobs. I will put together another post which will help people navigate the sites dedicated to her on the Internet, and link to other people's thoughts on her passing.
I will leave you with her own words, the most powerful tribute of all: "Cities - how shall I put it? - they’re the crux of so many different subjects, so many different puzzles. There’s almost nothing you can think of that cities don’t provide some insight into."
In Memoriam: Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)