Jane Jacobs

Individual – Toronto, Canada

1916 – 2006

Jane Jacobs (1916 - 2006) was a writer and activist who was born in the US but later moved to Toronto, Canada. Her work dealt with issues of urban planning, the decline of cities and the break up of neighbourhoods due to top-down planning policy. She is best known for her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities published in 1961, which was a sharp critique of urban renewal policies of the US in the 1950s. Jacobs is equally well-known for her grassroots activities, campaigning against projects that would destroy local neighbourhoods. One of the main projects she was involved in was the campaign which lasted from 1962-1968 and resulted in a long and protracted battle with New York master-planner, Robert Moses but eventually led to the cancelling of plans to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York.

Jacobs championed the ordinary citizen and advocated an approach to planning that was situated in and centred on local communities. She often admonished planners to build cities for people and not for cars. At a time when most commentators were advocating the demolition of unsuitable post-war housing, Jacobs was one of the first to emphasise the need for adding density and diversity to the existing urban fabric. With no professional training in urban planning, she relied on her acute observation of city life, combining empirical evidence with a common sense approach. Jacobs conceptualised cities as self-organised ecosystems that interacted with their inhabitants, viewing sidewalks, parks and neighbourhoods as important elements. She advocated mixed-use urban development and above all a bottom-up approach to planning that was adopted in consultation with local inhabitants. In her later books, Jacobs suggested strategies for the economic renewal of cities through 'import replacement', a strategy for local industry to manufacture its own goods, encouraging smaller scale and more diversified economies and providing jobs locally, as well as being environmentally responsible. This approach, which was considered radical at the time is now widely recognised as a way of creating sustainable communities and of tackling climate change.

The influence of Jacobs is such that many of her most important ideas now seem everyday but at the time of their conception they were considered radical. Jacobs' lifelong activism empowered ordinary citizens and her early successes in grassroots organisation paved the way for the advocacy planning and community design movements in the US.

Other Work

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961).

---, The Economy of Cities (New York: Random House, 1969).

---, Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life (New York: Random House, 1984).

---, The Nature of Economies (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2001).

---, Dark Age Ahead (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2005).

References About

Alice Sparberg Alexiou, Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary (Toronto: Rutgers University Press, 2006).

Peter Dreier, 'Jane Jacobs's Legacy', City & Community, 5 (2006), 227-231.

'Obituary: Jane Jacobs', The Guardian, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2006/apr/28/communities.guardianobituaries [accessed 30 March 2010].

'Jane Jacobs', Project for Public Spaces, http://www.pps.org/info/placemakingtools/placemakers/jjacobs [accessed 29 March 2010].


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