Jane Jacobs is dead

by Chris Bertram on April 25, 2006

Sad news. Jane Jacobs, thinker about cities, eclectic economist and brilliant nonconformist, about whom I’ve blogged a “couple”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/02/08/jane-jacobs/ of “times”:https://crookedtimber.org/2004/07/24/lunch-with-jane-jacobs/ , died this morning in Toronto. “Globe and Mail”:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060425.wjanejacobs0425/BNStory/National/home and “Toronto Star”:http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1145976509962&call_pageid=968332188492&col=968793972154 among others have reports.

Update: I’ll add links to other coverage and obituaries sporadically. “Douglas Martin in the New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/26/books/26jacobs.html . “Jeff Pruzan in the Financial Times”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/225787b2-d491-11da-a357-0000779e2340.html .

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Cyberspace Rendezvous :: Interview with Jane Jacobs :: April :: 2006
04.27.06 at 12:29 am



Christopher M 04.25.06 at 3:33 pm

People in Portland love Portland. That’s the most important thing. -JJ

The Globe and Mail strikes a crooked-timber note that suits this site well: “She believed implicitly that there was no such thing as a straight line in the way people thought, or in the way people lived.”


lemuel pitkin 04.25.06 at 7:50 pm

Reading Life and Death ws a formative experience for me, as I’m sure it was for many others. Rest in peace.


rented mule 04.25.06 at 8:59 pm

from the “Note on Illustrations” that opens The Death and Life:

“The scenes that illustrate this book are all about us. For illustrations, please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger and think about what you see.”


Lukas 04.26.06 at 12:55 am

I have a book called “Architecture In a Crowded World” sitting next to me. It’s from 1970 but I think its summary of her legacy is still right on: “the conventional wisdom has never recovered.”

(The author identified Christopher Alexander’s work as the logical next step, which is interesting, although I don’t know anything about his impact outside of software development.)


albertchampion 04.26.06 at 2:02 am


your insights into the amerikan metropolis were spot on.


Cian 04.26.06 at 5:41 am

Sad news in that she was a brilliant thinker/writer – but 89 is a pretty good innings.


David Sucher 04.26.06 at 7:41 am

Yet at the same time as it is said that “the conventional wisdom has never recovered,” we have an explosion of ‘starchitecture’ from Gehry, Koolhaas et al which largely ignore Jacobs’ perspective on cities by focusiing on the visual (freakish preferred) appearance of individual buildings.


lemuel pitkin 04.26.06 at 10:22 am

The author identified Christopher Alexander’s work as the logical next step

I was going to mention “A Pattern Language” as the other book that has most infouenced the way I think about cities and the built environment. So, yeah.


Wrenkin 04.26.06 at 1:17 pm

Not all the starchitecture in Toronto has been that bad. The OCAD building, while perhaps garish, is a practical solution that lets people from the street have access to the large park behind the school.


joel turnipseed 04.26.06 at 2:53 pm

Yes, cian–89 is damned good innings (though a friend of mine, just through with his commercial insurance license, tells me actuarial charts for kids born now run into the 130s).

Death and Life… is a wonderful book, of course: chock full of observation/insight. Opening a page at random (p. 234), I see: “No special form of city blight is nearly so devastating as the Great Blight of Dullness.”

Of course, I wonder how effective the manipulated use of her ideas is? We have just endured the installation of one of those “city street” malls (urban planners/architects are welcome to provide actual nomenclature), in which fake-antique iron lamps are installed on red-brick streets along which a Wal-Mart shares space with small restaurants, coffee shops, liquor stores, hair salons, etcetera. The problem? You couldn’t walk to this place if you tried, as it’s bound by major four-to-six lane streets. I suppose I like this set-up better than Minnesota’s blight to American retail, the mall–and then The Mall… but it’s no substitute for the kind of organic life of a city like SF or NY (or Twin Cities experiments like Grand Avenue’s dual-use zoning & others in St. Paul).

Jacobs, typically, gave warning against such catastrophes (and also gave a nice precis of her thinking) in Dark Age Ahead:

“Let things grow. Don’t let currently powerful government or commercial enterprises strangle new departures, or alternatively gobble them as soon as they show indications of becoming economic successes. Stop trying to cram too many eggs in too few baskets under the keeping of too few supermen (who don’t actually exist except in our mythos).”

Finally, as to Alexander: his Notes on the Synthesis of Form is, to my mind, his best book (though I haven’t read the new, even more expensive (!) than Pattern Language volumes, series. Notes is one of those little books, like Simon’s The Sciences of the Artifical or Trow’s In the Context of No Context that make you weep, nearly, in appreciation for their compact intelligence.


lemuel pitkin 04.26.06 at 3:24 pm

his Notes on the Synthesis of Form is, to my mind, his best book

Thanks Joel. (Amazon thanks you too.)


antirealist 04.26.06 at 6:31 pm

… a friend of mine, just through with his commercial insurance license, tells me actuarial charts for kids born now run into the 130s

Maybe. Maybe not.


David Sucher 04.26.06 at 6:38 pm

Jeff Prizan’s obituary in the FT offers the (I think) very incorrect suggestion that Jacobs “spent her entire career fighting for one deceptively simple principle: leave the cities alone and let them develop by themselves.”

I believe that is not an accurate assement at all. Jacobs belived that there must be rules for city building and while there need not be a great many rules, rules there must be. She by no means urged any sort of anarchy.

Indeed, it’s not really clear what a statement like “leave the cities alone and let them develop by themselves” could actually mean. Cities don’t develop by themselve. Individuals and various corporate entities — people — are the actors and there must be some set of rules by which they organize and coordinate their activities. For example, Jacobs wasn’t fighting Robert Moses because he was an urban planner but simply because he was implementing some bad plans.


P O'Neill 04.26.06 at 8:28 pm

Obit from Times of London.


danny 04.27.06 at 12:10 am

Feeling sorry to hear that Jane Jacobas is no more with us. Was a brilliant thinker and writer. Reading “Life and Death” was a formative experience for me like many others. But 89 is a pretty good age. May her soul rest in peace.


HiMY SYeD [www.JaneJacobs.TYO.ca] 04.28.06 at 9:13 am

I live in Jane Jacobs’ Toronto Neighbourhood of The Annex, just a few blocks over.

You can sign an online message of condolence at our website, to accompany the actual neighbourhood book of condolence which is at Dooney’s Cafe, a neighbourhood landmark she helped save when Starbucks first came to The Annex.



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