Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs produced a revolutionary bombshell when she contradicted current thinking on urban renewal. Defying her nemesis, planning czar Robert Moses, who clamored for relentless expressways to take over cities, she argued resolutely that cities are for people. Her years in New York’s West Village, with a successful career as author of closely researched magazine writing, exploded into immediate fame with Death and Life of American Cities.
As author Robert Kanigel writes, “With publication of her book, she would step from an almost entirely private life onto a larger public stage, to be seen, appraised, and judged.”
Postwar city renewal schemes chose to replace slums with high rises, neglecting the loneliness and dangers these invited. Jacobs strove to convince others that mixed use of land, what she termed “an exuberant vitality,” favored space where a blending of residences with commercial and service businesses allowed neighborhoods to flourish.
With further published success and growing entrenchment in civic action, after almost three decades in New York she and her family uprooted to Toronto, primarily in protest of the Viet Nam war. The move furthered her sense of civic involvement. As a teenager she and her sister captured, boiled, and skinned a feral cat to rearrange its bones for a science project. Such iconoclastic determination persisted throughout her long life.
Robert Kanigel reawakens our memory of Jane Jacobs, perhaps remembered as a provocative name in college courses. In his detailed, sensitive, encompassing biography readers can find a new awareness of their surroundings.
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