Patrice Riemens on Thu, 27 Apr 2006 08:10:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Urban expert Jane Jacobs dies at 89yrs.

>From The Globe&Mail (Toronto), full article & links at:

by Sandra Martin

Globe and Mail Update, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs, the urban expert and social activist who wrote The Death and 
Life of Great American Cities, died Tuesday morning at Toronto Western 
Hospital after about a year of up and down health problems.

She was taken to Toronto Western Hospital on Saturday after having 
suffered what appeared to be a stroke.

The American-born Canadian was 89 years. She was considered one of the 
most influential critics of urban planning.

As a public speaker she was feisty and outspoken, as a citizen she helped 
bring the Spadina expressway to a screeching halt, but what most people 
will remember about Jane Jacobs is the way she thought about issues. 
Largely self-educated, she was an acute observer of the complexity of 
life. She loved to walk the streets, storing information and insights in 
her prodigious brain, facts and incidents that she would then analyze, 
seeking patterns to explain why some neighbourhoods flourished and others 

A free thinker, who loathed the modern tendency to credentialism, she took 
on the rigid thinking of post-war urban thinkers in her most famous book, 
The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She believed implicitly that 
there was no such thing as a straight line in the way people thought, or 
in the way people lived. Even the smallest organism is affected by many 
different stimuli, so it is impossible to predict behaviour with any 

Although born and raised in the United States, she came to Canada with her 
late husband, architect Robert (Bob) Jacobs, in 1969 because they had two 
sons approaching draft age and they were opposed to the Vietnam War. She 
arrived in Toronto and almost immediately became embroiled in desperate 
struggles between developers who wanted to tear down historic properties 
to erect high rises and politicians who wanted to build expressways to 
bring cars from the suburbs into the downtown core.

Many people tried to label her, calling her everything from an amateur to 
an economist. She hated being pinned down, but the designation she allowed 
was urbanologist, a thinker about cities.

In the course of a long life she wrote several major books including, The 
Economy of Cities (1969) The Wealth of Nations (1984), a controversial 
book advocating Quebec sovereignty. The Question of Separatism (1980), 
Systems of Survival (1992) The Nature of Economies (2000) and Dark Age 
Ahead (2005).

Intensely private, she disliked public attention focused on her, rather 
than the causes she espoused. A dozen institutions offered her honourary 
degrees, but she turned them all down, because she feared that in 
accepting their accolades, she would have to give up something of herself 
for fundraising purposes. What she wanted, as she approached her 90th 
birthday this May, was more time for thinking and writing and being with 

When she was appointed as an officer to the Order of Canada in 1996, her 
citation said "her seminal writings and thought-provoking commentaries on 
urban development have had a tremendous effect on city dwellers, planners 
and architects."

It continues: "By stimulating discussion, change and action, she has 
helped to make Canadian city streets and neighbourhoods vibrant, liveable 
and workable for all."

In a 1997 profile, The Globe's Doug Saunders wrote she is known as the 
"lady who resurrected The Neighbourhood: the whole notion of the city as a 
good and self-sustaining entity. Her epochal 1961 book The Death and Life 
of Great American Cities made millions of North Americans realize that 
"urban renewal" and government-planned development were hurting cities, 
and that bustling streets, tight-packed neighbourhoods and downtown 
clutter were actually good things."

A Jane Jacobs bookshelf

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961): Cities rely on access 
to sidewalks and parks, high-density housing with a mix of incomes, uses 
and ages of buildings, and hands-off planning.

The Economy of Cities (1969): Urban economies are based on replacement of 
imports with indigenous products. Cycles of trade and entrepreneurship are 
vital to urban life.

The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle for Sovereignty 
(1980): Like Norway's separation from Sweden, Quebec's from Canada can be 
good for both parties if they maintain separate currencies.

Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life (1984): 
National economies are in fact the economies of urban regions, and 
national economies work best when cities are given maximum autonomy. 
Backward cities should trade with one another and consider secession.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and 
Politics (1992): Human societies rely on two distinct systems of morality: 
"commercial" and "guardian." Both are vital, but troubles arise when the 
two are combined.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece (1995): Jacobs 
reconstructs the journals of her great aunt, part of the U.S. 
"civilization" of Alaska at the turn of the century, and annotates them 
with short essays on the civil and political life of a fledgling society.

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