I found out via an instant message from a friend of mine late in the afternoon: Jane Jacobs had passed away earlier on Tuesday. The link is courtesy of Wikipedia. The caverns I’ve been traversing known as large projects for work had kept me from my regular early morning gleaning of the news wires and thus from knowing that one of biggest fans of “the city” as a concept was no longer with us. For those of you who do not know who Ms. Jacobs was, she is the main reason why the focus of this blog became more urban in nature. Her words have helped shape the current crop of urban design professionals eager to repair the damage done by the likes of New York’s Robert Moses and others like him who steered the nation towards its current excessive dependence on the automobile.
I am probably more of a heretic of my following of Ms. Jacobs over the years. I was aware of her guiding principles and had gleaned several of her writings, but I have never been able to read from cover-to-cover the book considered her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I’ve read sections for class, but have never been able to complete her epic work for personal pleasure (simply because, I’ve never given myself the time to).
I’ve now decided that it needs to be a driving force behind completing #74. Her writings served as an important component to the urban issues based classes I took while in college. My department chair stressed our needing to understand the urban fabric and enjoyed having us play devil’s advocate on any issue at any time. This is one of those college practices that I’ve found hard to give up. It allows me to understand both sides of an issue quite easily; much to the dismay of some people who know me and mistake it for ego (I wish I had a better one). The ability to have lived in New York and to have moved through some of her best case studies has definitely influenced several areas of my life. It’s also allowed me to appreciate those things not readily available in cities in addition to those things that I feel as though I need to be able to survive in the urban jungle.
Ms. Jacobs was lucky enough to live to see her words begin to be heeded. Let’s hope that now that she is no longer with us in the flesh that her words will still provide a beacon our city planners and designers are guided by. Here’s a link to a piece written about her life and accomplishments in today’s New York Times. I’m going to go and toast a drink to her this evening and watch how her words are influencing the very city I’ve chosen to live in.