Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jane Jacobs, in Memoriam

Jane Jacobs died yesterday. And the world lost a fantastic thinker. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities introduced me to thinking citically about urban planning, neighborhoods, and the general functioning of these beasts (love them though we do) we call cities. She is the reason I ride a folding bike to work, why I am thankful I can walk to my local grocery store, why everytime a developer proposes new highways or gated communities I cringe. From the Times obituary:

Her impact transcended borders. Basing her findings on deep, eclectic reading and firsthand observation, Jacobs challenged assumptions she believed damaged modern cities -- that neighborhoods should be isolated from each other, that an empty street was safer than a crowded one, that the car represented progress over the pedestrian.

Her priorities were for integrated, manageable communities, for diversity of people, transportation, architecture and commerce. She also believed that economies need to be self-sustaining and self-renewing, relying on local initiative instead of centralized bureaucracies.

We have Jacobs to thank for Washington Square Park not being a highway, for parks that have benches so people can socialize (though the idea was booed for fear that would encourage loitering and homeslessness), for streets that have vibrant "stoop life" rather than bright lights (which accomplish nothing if someone is getting mugged - people stop crime, not lights). For mixed use neighborhoods. Everytime I pass by a refurbished municipality that is dangerous and deserted at night (San Francisco) or ride through neighborhood with highrises and no communal areas (Brickell in Miami), I think about Jacobs. In short, JJ was an awesome woman, a fierce mind who influenced the world for better.