Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jane Jacobs News

I kind of faded out on Jane Jacobs' Dark Ages Ahead, now that we don't have to wait for one anymore.  Maybe I'll get back to it.  But there's a nice piece on Jane in the Nation from earlier this month by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow.  It's a nice primer on her life, work and importance as the author of "Life of Great American Cities (1961), one of the seminal books of the 20th century."

Such insights as: Jacobs’s unconventional politics grew out of her temperament. She was allergic to dogma; she followed not an ideology but a methodology. She did not assume, or imagine, or take things on faith; she observed. But she didn’t stop there: She accumulated observations and distilled them into general principles. For her, empiricism and theory were not opposites but complements.

This piece marks the occasion of a new collection of Jacobs' shorter essays and speeches, Vital Little Plans, and a new biography, Eyes on the Street.

Tuhus-Dubrow also notes that some of the characterizations and criticism of Jacobs comes from people who simply did not read her books very carefully--what they say she didn't critique, she certainly did, in detail.  An unfortunate but not in my experience rare tendency among the professional opinionati.

Towards the end of this piece, a Jacobs' essay or speech is quoted about the virtue of little plans rather than big ones in city planning.  It's quoted from a speech she gave in Germany but I vividly remember these sentences from a speech she gave on another occasion that was published in the American Scholar.  That speech, and a TV documentary on the city, were my introductions to her.  She became essential to my work on The Malling of America.

As for Dark Age Ahead, her last book, here's the only video of her talking about it at length, at a bookstore in Oregon.  This also preserves her priceless defense of anecdotal evidence and the most trenchant summary of the limitations of science that omits it.  When thinking about the future, Jane Jacobs is one of the indispensables.

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