Mary's Library

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a prophet. In 1961 she published a revolutionary book for which she became famous. In those days “urban renewal” was in fashion, a theory that said we needed to bulldoze the sometimes crumbling neighborhoods in our cities and build high-rise apartment buildings instead, or alternatively, to move folks out to the suburbs.

Jacobs, looking around at her complex and lively neighborhood, Greenwich Village in New York City, proposed that we did not need more sterile Bauhaus buildings and acres of streets faced with blank garage doors. She was an advocate for high density and diversity. This is now called mixed-use.

She lived above a candy store and she recommended that we scuttle the single-use zoning then being rigidly enforced even as sprawl ate up our open space and made our suburbs less livable. She recommended combining commercial and residential components in a single property.

This is now mainstream theory, the heart of the new urbanism that is creating places like Seaside, Florida, and reviving places like Clarendon, Virginia.

If you haven’t read The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it’s time to do so now, to honor the memory of this remarkable woman, who died today in Toronto, the livable city where she had resided for many years.


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