R. I. P. Jane Jacobs

Patron saint of TC Sidewalks, Jane Jacobs, died this week. The NYT has a must-read obit from yesterday . . .

But it is "Death and Life," published by Random House, that rocked the planning and architectural establishment.

On one level, it represented the first liberal attack on the liberal idea of urban renewal. At the same time, the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw an old-fashioned vision of community that he compared to Thornton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners. Ms. Jacobs herself thought the book's continuing appeal was that it plumbed the depths of human nature like a good novel.

In 2003, Herbert Muschamp, the Times's chief architecture critic, wrote that Ms. Jacobs's book was "one of 20th-century architecture's most traumatic events," in part because Ms. Jacobs was dismissive about the importance of design.

In recent years, she became an inspiration to architects and planners who espouse what they call the New Urbanism, an effort to promote social interaction by incorporating such Jacobean features as ground-floor stores in suburban developments.

. . . and the Strib had an op-ed obit today.
Instead of bulldozing whole districts, she advocated four principles: an incremental approach that mixed old and new buildings; a mixing of uses that integrated homes with shops, offices, restaurants and parks; small city blocks that created more options for people to get around and more opportunities for storefront business, and a dense population that would add vitality and safety to streets and sidewalks.

In addition, she saw clearly the devastating effects of the automobile on urban livability and objected fiercely to designers who wanted to remake cities in the image of suburbs. These "decentrists," as she called them, while intending to help cities, were "undermining them and killing them."

It's a cliche to say so, but reading Death and Life of Great American Cities changed my life. Thanks Jane.

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