Jane Says (part 1)

It must be one of those synchronicity things: Jane Jacobs keeps getting mentioned in the bloggy circles in which I travel, both online and in real life.

Luke Francl, Aaron Swartz and Rael Dornfest are currently reading her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It’s one of the books cited in the bibliography of Steven Johnson’s book, Emergence (I had the pleasure of hearing Johnson speak at the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference earlier this year). I remember talking about her with Emma and Graig when they dropped by my house late last week, Dan mentioned her in his blog just the other day and Cory invoked her name when he told me about how his barber got royally shafted by the landlord.

Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities during the postwar boom years, when the car was becoming an increasingly important factor in urban and suburban planning, and when the ‘burbs were beginning to expand. It’s not a book written by a trained urban planner, but rather by a keen observer who learned about cities and city life by being empirical and walking the streets and watching carefully. The ideas she put forth in her book — although counter to conventional urban planning wisdom at the time — are embraced by many of today’s urban planners.

Although she lived in the so-called greatest city on earth — New York — when she wrote the book, she moved here to Accordion City shortly after it was written and settled down in The Annex, an area with beautiful tree-lined residential streets joined by an eclectic shopping and restaurant strip, not far from the University of Toronto and the main east-west subway line. We have her to thank for killing plans to develop the Spadina Expressway (a proposed highway that would have run roughshod over several key neighbourhoods) and inspiring the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, a pleasant area where people of all income levels live together in a single neighbourhood. She’s still quite actively involved in city affairs, and Toronto is a better place for it.

If you’re looking for some holiday reading, I highly recommend The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Next: The neighbourhood I call home.

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