Thursday, April 27, 2006

In Memory of Jane Jacobs

It is with great sorrow and infinite regret that the Museum of the Bourgeois records the passing of Jane Jacobs, at the age of 89.

She was an author and community activist. Her 1961 volume, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is one of the essential classics of humane urban planning.

At the time of her writing, the prevailing wisdom in US Empire urban planning was to bulldoze poorer neighborhoods, and replace them with housing projects to warehouse the lower classes. (It was no accident that the creators and supporters of this approach were almost invariably from the middle and upper classes, and would never have considered residence in their own creations.)

As one might have expected, warehousing the less-fortunate in vertical detention camps produced an explosion of alienation and crime. (It would be interesting to know if J.G. Ballard was influenced by Jacobs in his 1975 novel, High Rise.)

Put briefly, Jacobs advocated density and diversity in low-rise structures, the sort of mix one blessedly encounters in many parts of New York City. One descends from a 5th or 10th floor apartment, and immediately outside one's door is a newstand, dry cleaner, deli, clothing shop, beauty salon, medical office, neighborhood pub, all crowded, along with the sidewalks, by one's neighbors and visitors.

When people are thrown together in such close quarters, surrounded by a supportive physical and social infrastructure, they usually rise to the challenge, and find fruitful ways to live together and prosper in every sense.

Death and Life is the sort of book that should be taught in every American high school.

Jane Jacobs will be deeply missed. All honour to her.


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