Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.
Though Jacobs was later portrayed as an engaged, block-party mom, Kanigel (in the new bio “Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs”) reveals that she was much too busy writing and working to do much real street living; her shopping was mostly done by phone. It was her more abstract experience of large-scale urban renewal elsewhere, particularly in Philadelphia, under the then much praised Edmund Bacon, that really kindled her growing indignation about what was happening to cities.
A paragraph heading in one of her Fortune pieces summed up her new belief: “The smallness of big cities.” Big cities thrived, she wrote, because they were full of healthy micro-villages; small ones became overdependent on one or two businesses, turning into plantation towns with company stores (as Scranton had been too dependent on coal). She became notorious for attacking Lincoln Center, then under construction. A cynosure of everything forward-looking and ambitious in urban design, it represented to her, almost alone, the apotheosis of the “super blocks” that destroyed the “hurly-burly” of city life. Anti-modernist at a time when few progressives dared to be, she was invited to a symposium on cities at Harvard in 1956, and did a Ruby Keeler, going up to the lectern an unknown and coming back to her seat a star.