Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Jane Jacobs: At The Heart Of The Livable City

I was pleased to see that today's Google Doodle honored the birth of Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), an American pioneer in the planning of livable cities. There were no plans on my part to write a blog post about her but as the day wore on the thoughts reached a tipping point and what follows is the result.

Jacobs was an unorthodox thinker unconstrained by an academic specialty - she never got a degree - and shaped by some extraordinary career opportunities in New York, a city she loved and enjoyed for almost forty years. In the crucible that is the Big Apple she became a notable participant-observer and a defender of the occupants who called the place home. You could say she brought emotion and feeling into a profession dominated for half a century by the coldness of central planning and Modernist architecture. Today, wherever you live, be it Manhattan in New York or in Kansas or Anytown USA, the imprint of Jane Jacobs can be found in the public spaces around you.

Although she left us a sizable written legacy, I remember her for two books, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and The Economy of Cities (1969). The first book is a landmark study in the concept of livability in the organic city. I read both books during urban geography studies in graduate school and later applied much of the contents to my work in historic preservation in Savannah and in national park planning, design, and operations in the Southeast. Wish I could say that about the thousands of other pages I had to read in "school."  

For more insight on the Jacobs legacy read this brief essay by Peter Dreier at the National Housing Institute website.

Her rather extensive obituary from the New York Times provides additional information and interesting anecdotes.


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