A collection of short pieces by an outspoken champion of urban diversity.
To commemorate the centenary of the birth of Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), urban historian Zipp (American Studies/Brown Univ.; Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York, 2012) and curator and designer Storring have gathered 37 articles, essays, talks, and interviews that span Jacobs’ career as an astute, opinionated commentator on city life. Their informative introduction to the volume and to each of the sections provides an illuminating context for the arc of Jacobs’ career and the issues faced by her native and adopted cities, New York and Toronto. Jacobs “delighted in irking all the specialists and ideologues, from planners and sociologists to libertarians and Marxists.” After working as a freelance journalist, she started at Architectural Forum, where she later wrote about urban renewal projects. That experience fed into her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), which elevated her to prominence as an urban critic. The well-chosen selection begins in 1935 and 1937, with two articles for Vogue, each offering a lively, affectionate portrait of the diamond district and wholesale flower markets. Jacobs’ essays for Forum, beginning in the 1950s, reflect her growing awareness of the consequences of renewal and gentrification and her sophisticated take on building structure, much of which she learned from her husband, an architect. For Jacobs, the city’s life was in its streets: stores, she said, “are social centers,” and the diversity of “30 neighborhood delicatessens, fruit stands, groceries and butchers” cannot be replaced by one supermarket. Redevelopment that does not account for the richness of neighborhood life “causes catastrophic dislocation and hardship.” She scorned “spacious, parklike, and uncrowded” revitalization projects that would leave a downtown looking like “a well-kept, dignified cemetery.”
A timely volume that supports Jacobs’ aim to “stir up some independent thinking urgently needed as a wake-up call for America.” A perfect complement to Robert Kanigel’s excellent biography, Eyes on the Street (2016).