Tuesday, April 25

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs, writer of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, has passed away. When a nonfiction book about urban planning written in 1961 can knock your socks off in 2005, it's something impressive. In Death & Life, Jacobs talks about what makes cities great, and what causes cities harm. My favorite parts are always when she talks about the LES and West Village (where she'd lived).
Last year I was on such a street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, waiting for a bus. I had not been there longer than a minute, barely long enough to begin taking in the street's activity of errand goers, children playing, and loiterers on the stoops, when my attention was attracted by a woman who opened a window on the third floor of a tenement across the street and vigorously yoo-hooed at me...."The bus doesn't run here on Sundays!" Then by a combination of shouts and pantomime she directed me around the corner. This woman was one of thousands upon thousands of people in New York who casually take care of the streets.
If you haven't realized, much of what makes Death & Life amazing is that Jacobs truly believes that people working together (in the rightly designed city) can make life better. More to the point, really, is that Jacobs believes people's natural inclination will be to work and live together happily.

Obits: from the NYT; WaPo
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