Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jane Jacobs was the seer of the modern city

Jane Jacobs' classic book on urban living is 50 this year. Our current leaders would do well to read it


Who was the pre-eminent urban thinker of modern times? In his fascinating history of modern urban planning, Cities of Tomorrow, Sir Peter Hall devotes chapters to the likes of Ebenezer Howard (founder of the garden city movement); Patrick Geddes, the champion of self-governing city regions; and the great, utterly disastrous Le Corbusier.
But what of Jane Jacobs, whose most famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is 50 years old? Hall accords the book only a few paragraphs – "one of those classic cases of the right message at the right time" – and its birthday is going almost completely unmarked in the UK (apart from an event at the RSA this week). But it must be a lead contender for best and most enduring work on urban planning of the last century. Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow and Le Corbusier's La Ville radieuse are period pieces. But Jacobs' masterwork still feels relevant.
The story is well known – a classic David and Goliath. Jacobs, a housewife, mother and part-time architectural journalist, had been drawn into the campaign to prevent New York's dictatorial planning boss Robert Moses – who had already ripped up swaths of the city – from driving a highway through her native Greenwich Village. She decided to write a book.

photo by pdxcityscape

similar posts:

Urban Nation: Australia's Planning Heritage

Urban Planning Theory Since 1945

Resources of the City: Towards a European Urban Environmental History

New Urbanism and Planning History: Back to the Future

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