Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs, 1916 to 2006

Just 9 days shy of her 90th birthday, Toronto writer and "urban legend" Jane Jacobs died this morning in Toronto.

Mrs. Jacobs was a true hero of the little guy and she championed all her life sensible, liveable communities centred on people, rather than the high-rise downtown culture of the car-centric suburbs we have today. She was a brilliant thinker and her appeal seemed to have trancended labels like "left" or "right" - she is respected by libertarians and communists alike, as well as the rest of us in between.

Jane Jacobs is one of the few special writers and thinkers for me personally. I lived 2 blocks from her in Toronto's Annex nieghbourhood through the 90's (although, except for seeing her at the grocery store, I never actually met her). It wasn't until a year or so ago, when I heard the first chapter of "Dark Age Ahead" being read aloud on CBC's Writers and Company, that I became a fan. It was this book that gave me a greater understanding of both economics, politics and urban planning that turned me on to others in the field.

If you have never read this book, pick it up. It should be a required read in schools. It is at once a warning about the path we are on and a message of hope that we can, as we have in the past, overcome these problems. She presented inovative solutions and brought a perspective to our modern times that no one under the age of 80 could ever hope to.

So, my mission is now to read some of her other great books - "Systems of Survival" or "Death and Life of Great American Cities" - and know her better.

So, now, whenever I read David Warren's anti-science, ultra-religious tripe, I am reminded that the abandonment of science and reasoning is one of the signs of the impending Dark Age Mrs Jacobs warns about. I am inspired to fight harder for critical thinking being taught in schools.

Whenever I read revisionist-history and the yearning for an age that never was, as George Jonas likes to do, I am reminded that cultural amnesia and the forgetting of the truth is one of the signs and causes of a Dark Age. I am inspired to fight harder and remember history.

But more fundementally, when I pay my mortgage, I am reminded it was Jane Jacobs that taught me that rent controls don't work and that dual-income families need to be that way because of the high cost of realestate and housing.

Thanks Jane Jacobs. We will not forget you. And we will not let a Dark Age claim us.

5 Comments:

At 3:41 AM, Blogger John Murney said...

That was a very interesting obit.

 
At 2:52 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Jane Jacobs was a formidable thinker. It is really too bad that the economics establishment gave her short shrift while the left seemed to embrace her as one of her own without really understanding her work.

I was disappointed by Dark Age Ahead, particularly the gratuitous criticisms of "conservatives." Attacking straw men only undercuts her arguments. Still, she makes some good points even if she is overly pessimistic about our fate.

Two of her books have had a profound impact on my thinking: Cities and the Wealth of Nations and Systems of Survival. The first makes the case that cities and regions are the fundamental building blocks of our economy. In this she predated all the business gurus with their talk of clusters.

Systems of Survival is an indispensable read for understanding politics, as well as business. She argues that the two domains operate under different codes and it is a mistake to apply the code of one domain to the other. It is particularly dangerous to mix them (e.g., Crown Corporations).

You definitely have to include these two books on your reading list.

 
At 5:49 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"I was disappointed by Dark Age Ahead, particularly the gratuitous criticisms of "conservatives." Attacking straw men only undercuts her arguments."

She did like the term "cheeseparing" didn't she?

;)

I think she is endeared by left and right alike - guys like Jay Jardine and Ian Scott are also big fans and they are hardcore libertarians.

she was hard on the Mike Harris conservatives because they deserved it - they were short sighted and didn't care what effect their actions had beyond 'no taxes, less government' dogma.

She was equally hard on the left for championing things like rent controls, which had the opposite effect they were supposed to.

"She argues that the two domains operate under different codes and it is a mistake to apply the code of one domain to the other."

I agree, one should never run a government like a business - which is why some of the Conserative positions make no sense.

I will add those to my list.

Thanks for coming by.

 
At 6:37 PM, Anonymous rent control said...

Where and when did Jane Jacobs say that about rent controls?

I would like the citation so I can see what context she said it in.

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Check Chapter 3 or 4 of "The Dark Age Ahead"

 

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