Jane Jacobs

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Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs.jpg
Jane Jacobs, then chairperson of a civic group in Greenwich Village, at a press conference in 1961.
Born Jane Butzner
(1916-05-04)May 4, 1916
Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died April 25, 2006(2006-04-25) (aged 89)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cause of death Stroke
Education graduated Scranton High School; no college; two years of graduate studies at Columbia University
Occupation journalist, author, Urban theorist
Employer Amerika, Architectural Forum
Organization Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway
Home town Greenwich Village, New York City
The Annex, Toronto
Spouse(s) Robert Jacobs
Awards OC, O.Ont, Vincent Scully Prize, National Building Museum

Jane Jacobs OC OOnt (born Jane Butzner; May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies. Her influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) argued that urban renewal did not respect the needs of most city-dwellers. The book also introduced sociology concepts such as "eyes on the street" and "social capital".

Jacobs was well known for organizing grassroots efforts to protect existing neighborhoods from "slum clearance" – and particularly for her opposition to Robert Moses in his plans to overhaul her neighborhood, Greenwich Village. She was instrumental in the eventual cancellation of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have passed directly through SoHo and Little Italy, and was arrested in 1968 for inciting a crowd at a public hearing on the project. After moving to Canada in 1968, she joined the opposition to the Spadina Expressway and the associated network of expressways in Toronto planned and under construction.

As a mother and a female writer who criticized experts in the male-dominated field of urban planning, Jacobs endured scorn from established figures, who called her a "housewife" and a "crazy dame." She did not have a college degree, or any formal training in urban planning, and was criticized for being unscholarly and imprecise. She was also accused of inattention to racial inequality, and her concept of "unslumming" has been compared with gentrification.

Early years

Jacobs was born Jane Butzner in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Decker Butzner, a doctor, and Bess Robison Butzner, a former teacher and nurse. They were a Protestant family in a heavily Roman Catholic town.[1] Her brother, John Decker Butzner, Jr. served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. After graduating from Scranton High School, she worked for a year as the unpaid assistant to the women's page editor at the Scranton Tribune.

New York City

In 1935, during the Great Depression, she moved to New York City with her sister Betty.[2] Jane Butzner took an immediate liking to Manhattan's Greenwich Village, which did not conform to the city's grid structure. The sisters soon moved there from Brooklyn.[3][4]

During her first several years in the city, Jacobs held a variety of jobs, working mainly as a stenographer and freelance writer, often writing about working districts in the city. These experiences, she later said, "… gave me more of a notion of what was going on in the city and what business was like, what work was like." Her first job was for a trade magazine, first as a secretary, then as an editor. She sold articles to the Sunday Herald Tribune, Cue magazine, and Vogue.[5]

She studied at Columbia University's School of General Studies for two years, taking courses in geology, zoology, law, political science, and economics.[6] About the freedom to pursue study across her wide-ranging interests, she said:

For the first time I liked school and for the first time I made good marks. This was almost my undoing because after I had garnered, statistically, a certain number of credits I became the property of Barnard College at Columbia, and once I was the property of Barnard I had to take, it seemed, what Barnard wanted me to take, not what I wanted to learn. Fortunately my high-school marks had been so bad that Barnard decided I could not belong to it and I was therefore allowed to continue getting an education.[7]


After graduating from Columbia's School of General Studies, Butzner found a job at Iron Age magazine. A 1943 article on economic decline in Scranton was well-publicized and led the Murray Corporation to locate a warplane factory there. Encouraged by this success, Butzner petitioned the War Production Board to support more operations in Scranton.[8] Experiencing discrimination at Iron Age, she also advocated for equal pay for women and for workers' right to unionize.[9]


She became a feature writer for the Office of War Information, and then a reporter for Amerika, a publication of the U.S. State Department.[10] While working there she met Robert Hyde Jacobs Jr., a Columbia-educated architect who was designing warplanes for Grumman. Butzner and Jacobs married in 1944. Together they had two sons, James and Ned, and a daughter, Burgin. They bought a three-story building at 555 Hudson St. Jane continued to write for Amerika after the war, while Robert left Grumman and resumed work as an architect.[11]

The Jacobses rejected the rapidly growing suburbs as "parasitic", choosing instead to remain in Greenwich Village.[12] They renovated their new house, in the middle of a mixed residential and commercial area, and created a garden in the backyard.[13]

Working for the State Department during McCarthyism, Jacobs received a questionnaire regarding her political beliefs and loyalties. Jacobs was anti-communist, and had left the Federal Workers Union because of its apparent communist sympathies. Nevertheless, she was pro-union and purportedly appreciated the writing of Saul Alinsky; therefore she was under suspicion.[14][15] On March 25, 1952, Jacobs delivered a now-famous response to Conrad E. Snow, chairman of the Loyalty Security Board at the United States Department of State. In her foreword to her answer, she said:

The other threat to the security of our tradition, I believe, lies at home. It is the current fear of radical ideas and of people who propound them. I do not agree with the extremists of either the left or the right, but I think they should be allowed to speak and to publish, both because they themselves have, and ought to have, rights, and once their rights are gone, the rights of the rest of us are hardly safe …[16]

Architectural Forum

Jacobs left Amerika in 1952 when it announced that it would relocate to Washington, D.C.[17] She found a well-paying job at Architectural Forum, published by Henry Luce of Time Inc.[18] After early success on the job, Jacobs began to take assignments on urban planning and "urban blight".[19] In 1954, she was assigned to cover a development in Philadelphia designed by Edmund Bacon. Although her editors expected a positive story, Jacobs criticized Bacon's project, reacting against the apparent lack of care shown for the poor African Americans who were directly affected. When Bacon showed Jacobs examples of undeveloped and developed blocks, she was upset to find that "development" seemed to end active community life on the street.[20][21] When Jacobs returned to the offices of Architectural Forum, she began to question the 1950s consensus on urban planning.[22]

In 1955, Jacobs met William Kirk, an Episcopal minister who worked in East Harlem. Kirk came to the Architectural Forum offices to describe the impact that "revitalization" had on East Harlem, and he introduced Jacobs to the neighborhood.[23]

In 1956, Jacobs delivered a lecture at Harvard University, standing in for Douglas Haskell of Architectural Forum.[17] She addressed leading architects, urban planners, and intellectuals (including Lewis Mumford), speaking on the topic of East Harlem. She urged this audience to "respect – in the deepest sense – strips of chaos that have a weird wisdom of their own not yet encompassed in our concept of urban order." Contrary to her expectations, the talk was received with enthusiasm, but it also marked her as a threat to established urban planners, real estate owners, and developers.[24][25] Architectural Forum printed the speech that year, along with photos of East Harlem.[26]

Rockefeller Foundation and Death and Life of Great American Cities

After reading the text of her Harvard speech, William H. Whyte invited Jacobs to write a piece for Fortune magazine. The resulting piece, "Downtown Is for People", appeared in a 1958 issue of Fortune, and marked her first public criticism of Robert Moses.[27] Her stance – particularly her criticism of the Lincoln Center – was not popular with supporters of urban renewal at Architectural Forum and Fortune.[28] It particularly outraged C. D. Jackson, the publisher of Fortune, who demanded of Whyte over the phone: "Who is this crazy dame?"[29][30]

The Fortune piece brought Jacobs to the attention of Chadbourne Gilpatric, then Associate Director of the Humanities Division at the Rockefeller Foundation.[31] The Foundation had moved aggressively into urban topics, with a recent award to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for studies of urban aesthetics that would culminate in the publication of Kevin A. Lynch's Image of the City.[17] In May 1958, Gilpatric invited Jacobs to begin serving as a reviewer for grant proposals.[17] Later that year, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded a grant to Jacobs to produce a critical study of city planning and urban life in the US. (From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, the foundation's Humanities Division sponsored an "Urban Design Studies" research program, of which Jacobs was the best known grantee.)[17] Gilpatric encouraged Jacobs to "explor[e] the field of urban design to look for ideas and actions which may improve thinking on how the design of cities might better serve urban life, including cultural and humane value."[17] Affiliating with The New School (then called The New School for Social Research), she spent three years conducting research and writing drafts. In 1961, Random House published the product of her research: The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities remains one of the most influential books in the history of American city planning. It introduces terms like "social capital", "mixed primary uses", and "eyes on the street", which became popular in urban design, sociology, and other fields.[32] Jacobs painted a devastating picture of the entire profession of city planning, labeling it a pseudoscience. This led to angry responses from various rich and powerful men. Jacobs was criticized as a "militant dame" and a "housewife": an amateur who had no right to interfere with an established discipline.[33] Her book was also criticized from the left for leaving out race and accepting gentrification.[34]

In 1962 she gave up her position at Architectural Forum to become a full-time author and mother.[35] In addition to her local politics, she was a notable opponent of the Vietnam War, and marched on the Pentagon in October 1967.[36] She criticized the construction of the World Trade Center as a disaster for Manhattan's waterfront.[37]

Struggle for Greenwich Village

Jacobs fought to prevent Washington Square Park, pictured, from being demolished for a highway

During the 1950s and 1960s, her own home neighborhood of Greenwich Village was being transformed by developers, the expansion of New York University (NYU), and by the urban renewal plans of Robert Moses. Moses – who had already forced through the Cross Bronx Expressway and other roadways against neighborhood opposition – envisioned a freeway, referred to as the Lower Manhattan Expressway or "LOMEX", directly through Washington Square Park. His plan, funded as "slum clearance" by Title I of the Housing Act of 1949, also called for multiple blocks to be razed and replaced with upscale high-rises. The plan forced 132 families out of their homes and displaced 1000 small businesses – the result was Washington Square Village.[38]

Jacobs chaired the Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway (a.k.a. Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square to Traffic, and other names), which recruited such members as Margaret Mead, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lewis Mumford, Charles Abrams, and William H. Whyte.[24] Papers such as The New York Times were sympathetic to Moses, while the newly created Village Voice covered community rallies and advocated against the expressway.[39] The Committee succeeded in blocking the project. On June 25, 1958, the city closed Washington Square Park to traffic, and the Joint Committee held a ribbon tying (not cutting) ceremony.[40] Jacobs continued to fight the expressway when plans resurfaced in 1962, 1965, and 1968, and she became a local hero for her opposition to the project.[41] She was arrested by a plainclothes police officer on April 10, 1968, at a public hearing, during which the crowd had charged the stage and destroyed the stenographer's notes.[42] She was accused of inciting a riot, criminal mischief, and obstructing public administration – after months of trials conducted in New York City (to which Jacobs commuted from Toronto), her charge was reduced to disorderly conduct.[43][44]

A late 1990s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary series on New York’s history devoted a full hour of its fourteen hours to the battle between Moses and Jacobs,[45] although Robert Caro's highly critical biography of Moses, The Power Broker, gives only passing mention to this event, despite Jacobs's strong influence on Caro.[46][47]

Canadian life

Soon after her arrest in 1968, Jacobs moved to Toronto, where she lived until her death.[36] She decided to leave the US in part because she opposed the Vietnam War, she worried about the fate of her two draft-age sons, and she did not want to continue fighting the City of New York. She and her husband chose Toronto because it was pleasant and offered employment opportunities,[48] and they moved to an area of the city that included so many Americans avoiding the draft it was called the "American ghetto".[49]

She quickly became a leading figure in her new city and helped stop the proposed Spadina Expressway. A frequent theme of her work was to ask whether we are building cities for people or for cars. She was arrested twice during demonstrations.[16] She also had considerable influence on the regeneration of the St. Lawrence neighborhood, a housing project regarded as a major success. She became a Canadian citizen in 1974, and she later told writer James Howard Kunstler that dual citizenship was not possible at the time, implying that her US citizenship was lost.[50]

In 1980, she offered an urbanistic perspective on Quebec's sovereignty in her book The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Separation. Jacobs was an advocate of a Province of Toronto to separate the city proper from Ontario. Jacobs said, "Cities, to thrive in the 21st century, must separate themselves politically from their surrounding areas."[citation needed]

She was selected to be an officer of the Order of Canada in 1996 for her seminal writings and thought-provoking commentaries on urban development. The Community and Urban Sociology section of the American Sociological Association awarded her its Outstanding Lifetime Contribution award in 2002. In 1997, the City of Toronto sponsored a conference titled "Jane Jacobs: Ideas That Matter", which led to a book by the same name. At the end of the conference, the Jane Jacobs Prize was created. It includes an annual stipend of $5,000 for three years to be given to "celebrate Toronto's original, unsung heroes – by seeking out citizens who are engaged in activities that contribute to the city’s vitality".[51]

Jacobs with Ecotrust foreman Spencer Beebe in Portland, Oregon, 2004.

Jacobs never shied away from expressing her political support for specific candidates. She opposed the 1997 amalgamation of the cities of Metro Toronto, fearing that individual neighborhoods would have less power with the new structure. She backed an ecologist, Tooker Gomberg, who lost Toronto's 2000 mayoralty race, and was an adviser to David Miller's successful mayoral campaign in 2003, at a time when he was seen as a longshot. During the mayoral campaign, Jacobs helped lobby against the construction of a bridge to join the city's waterfront to Toronto City Centre Airport (TCCA).[52] Following the election, Toronto City Council’s earlier decision to approve the bridge was reversed and bridge construction project was stopped. TCCA did upgrade the ferry service and the airport is still in operation as of 2015.

Jacobs was also active in a fight against a plan of Royal St. George's College (an established school very close to Jacobs' long-time residence in Toronto’s Annex district) to reconfigure its facilities. Jacobs suggested not only that the redesign be stopped but also the school be forced from the neighborhood entirely.[53] Although Toronto council initially rejected the school’s plans, the decision was later reversed – and the project was given the go-ahead by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) when opponents failed to produce credible witnesses and tried to withdraw from the case during the hearing.[54]

She also had an influence on Vancouver's urban planning. Jacobs has been called "the mother of Vancouverism",[55] referring to that city's use of her "density done well" philosophy.[56]

Jacobs died in Toronto Western Hospital aged 89, on April 25, 2006, apparently of a stroke.[57] She was survived by a brother, James Butzner; her two sons, James and Ned, and a daughter, Burgin Jacobs; by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Upon her death her family's statement noted:

What's important is not that she died but that she lived, and that her life's work has greatly influenced the way we think. Please remember her by reading her books and implementing her ideas.[58]


Jacobs is credited, along with Lewis Mumford, with inspiring the New Urbanist movement.[59] She has been characterized as a major influence on decentralist [60] and radical centrist thought.[61] She discussed her legacy in an interview with Reason magazine.

Reason: What do you think you'll be remembered for most? You were the one who stood up to the federal bulldozers and the urban renewal people and said they were destroying the lifeblood of these cities. Is that what it will be?

Jacobs: No. If I were to be remembered as a really important thinker of the century, the most important thing I've contributed is my discussion of what makes economic expansion happen. This is something that has puzzled people always. I think I've figured out what it is.

Expansion and development are two different things. Development is differentiation of what already existed. Practically every new thing that happens is a differentiation of a previous thing, from a new shoe sole to changes in legal codes. Expansion is an actual growth in size or volume of activity. That is a different thing.

I've gone at it two different ways. Way back when I wrote The Economy of Cities, I wrote about import replacing and how that expands, not just the economy of the place where it occurs, but economic life altogether. As a city replaces imports, it shifts its imports. It doesn't import less. And yet it has everything it had before.

Reason: It's not a zero-sum game. It's a bigger, growing pie.

Jacobs: That's the actual mechanism of it. The theory of it is what I explain in The Nature of Economies. I equate it to what happens with biomass, the sum total of all flora and fauna in an area. The energy, the material that's involved in this, doesn't just escape the community as an export. It continues being used in a community, just as in a rainforest the waste from certain organisms and various plants and animals gets used by other ones in the place.
— Jane Jacobs, "City Views: Urban studies legend Jane Jacobs on gentrification, the New Urbanism, and her legacy", Reason, June 2001, Interviewer: Bill Steigerwald

While Jacobs saw her greatest legacy to be her contributions to economic theory, it is in the realm of urban planning that she has had her most extensive impact. Her observations about the ways in which cities function revolutionized the urban planning profession and discredited many accepted planning models that dominated mid-century planning.[62] The influential Harvard Economist Edward Glaeser, known for his work on urban studies, acknowledged (2007-01-19) that Jane Jacobs (1960s) had been prescient in attacking Moses for "replacing well-functioning neighborhoods with Le Corbusier-inspired towers." Glaeser agreed that these housing projects proved to be Moses' greatest failures, "Moses spent millions and evicted tens of thousands to create buildings that became centers of crime, poverty, and despair (Glaeser 2007-01-19)."[63]

She was also famous for introducing concepts such as the "Ballet of the Sidewalk" and "Eyes on the Street", a reference to what would later be known as natural surveillance. The concept had a huge influence on planners and architects such as Oscar Newman, who operationalized the idea through a series of studies that would culminate in his defensible space theory. Jacobs's and Newman's work would go on to impact American housing policy through the HOPE VI Program, an effort by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish the high-rise public housing projects so reviled by Jacobs, and to replace them with low-rise, mixed-income housing.

Through her life, she fought to alter the way in which city development was approached. By arguing that cities were living beings and ecosystems, she advocated ideas such as "mixed use" development and bottom-up planning. Furthermore, her harsh criticisms of "slum clearing" and "high-rise housing" projects were instrumental in discrediting these once universally supported planning practices.[64][44]

Jane Jacobs will be remembered as being an advocate for the mindful development of cities[65] and has left "a legacy of empowerment for citizens to trust their common sense and become advocates for their place".[66]

Despite the fact that Jane Jacobs mainly focused on New York, her arguments have been identified as universal.[67] For instance, her opposition against the demolition of urban neighbourhoods for projects of urban renewal had "special resonance" in Melbourne, Australia.[68] In Melbourne in the 1960s, resident associations fought against large-scale high-rise housing projects of the Housing Commission of Victoria, which they argued had little regard for the impact on local communities.[68]

Throughout her life, Jane Jacobs fought an uphill battle against dominant trends of planning. Despite the United States remaining very much a suburban nation,[69] the work of Jacobs has contributed to city living being rehabilitated and revitalized. Because of her ideas, today, many distressed urban neighbourhoods are more likely to be gentrified than cleared for redevelopment.[62]

It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things do work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give. If so, there is little hope for our cities or probably for much else in our society. But I do not think this is so.

— Jane Jacobs, The Death And Life of Great American Cities, 1961

In her book 'Death and Life of Great American Cities,' written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities. At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism – in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.

— Douglas Martin, The New York Times, April 25, 2006

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a Jane Jacobs Day, held on June 28, 2006.[70] The City of Toronto proclaimed Friday May 4, 2007, as Jane Jacobs Day in Toronto. Two dozen free walks around and about Toronto neighborhoods, dubbed Jane's Walk, were held on Saturday May 5, 2007. A Jane's Walk event was later held in New York in on September 29 and 30, 2007, and, for 2008, the event has spread to eight cities and towns across Canada.

The Municipal Art Society of New York partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to host an exhibit focusing on "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York" which opened at the MAS on September 26, 2007. The exhibit aimed to educate the public on her writings and activism and uses tools to encourage new generations to become active in issues involving their own neighborhoods. An accompanying exhibit publication includes essays and articles by such architecture critics, artists, activists and journalists as Malcolm Gladwell, Reverend Billy, Robert Neuwirth, Tom Wolfe, Thomas de Monchaux, and William McDonough.[71] Many of these contributors are participating in a series of panel discussions on "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York" taking place at venues across the city in Fall, 2007.[72]

Samuel R. Delany's book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue relies heavily on The Death and Life of Great American Cities in its analysis of the nature of social relations within the realm of urban studies.

Jane Jacobs Medal

As a tribute to Jacobs, the Rockefeller Foundation, which had awarded Jacobs grants in the 1950s and 1960s, announced on February 9, 2007, the creation of the Jane Jacobs Medal, "to recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to thinking about urban design, specifically in New York City".[73] Recipients:

  • Barry Benepe, co-founder of NYC's Green Market program and a founding member of Transportation Alternatives, was awarded with the inaugural Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership and a $100,000 cash prize in September 2007. The inaugural Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism was awarded to Omar Freilla, the founder of Green Worker Cooperatives in the South Bronx; Mr. Freilla donated his $100,000 to his organization.
  • Peggy Shepard, executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action, received the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership and Alexie Torres-Fleming, founder of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, received the award for New Ideas and Activism. Both women received their medals and $100,000 awards at a dinner ceremony in September 2008 in New York City.
  • Damaris Reyes, executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), received the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. Richard Kahan, as founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly, which created and manages 22 secondary public schools located in many of the lowest income neighborhoods in New York City, received the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership. Both received $100,000, in addition to the medal.[74]
  • The 2010 recipients were Joshua David and Robert Hammond, whose work in establishing the High Line Park atop an unused elevated railroad line, led the foundation to award the 2010 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, along with $60,000 to each man. The 2010 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership was given to Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, for her longtime work as writer, Park Administrator and co-founder of Central Park Conservancy. She also received $80,000.[75]

The Canadian Urban Institute also offers an award in Jacobs' name, the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award. The 2011 winner was Eberhard Zeidler.[76]

Jacobs received the second Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum in 2000.[77]


The planners and developers that she fought in order to preserve the West Village were among those who initially criticised her ideas. Robert Moses has generally been identified as her archrival during this period. Since then, Jacobs’ ideas have been analysed many times,[78][79][80][81] often in regard to the outcomes that their influences have produced.

In places like the West Village, the factors that she argued would maintain economic and cultural diversity have instead led to gentrification and some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Her own home sold in the 2000s for more than $3 million.[82] Arguably, her own white-collar family’s conversion of an old candy shop into a home was indicative of the gentrifying trend that would continue under the influence of Jacobs’s ideas.[80][83]

However, gentrification was also caused by "the completely unexpected influx of affluent residents back into the inner city".[80] The extent to which her ideas facilitated this phenomenon was at the time unimaginable. For example, she advocated the preservation of older buildings specifically because their lack of economic value made them affordable for poor people. In this respect, she saw them as "guarantors of social diversity" (Klemek, 2011:76). That many of these older structures have increased in economic value solely due to their age was implausible in 1961. Issues of gentrification have dominated criticism of Jane Jacobs’ planning ideas.[84] But her concepts have also been criticised more broadly. For example, although her ideas of planning were praised at times as "universal",[67] they were criticized as inapplicable when a city grows from one million to ten million (as has happened many times in the Third World). Such arguments suggest that the ideas apply only to cities with similar issues to that of New York, where Jacobs developed many of her ideas.

Economist Tyler Cowen has criticized her ideas for not addressing problems of scale or infrastructure, and suggests that economists disagree with some of her approaches to development.[85]


Jane Jacobs spent her life studying cities. Her books include:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is her single-most influential book and possibly the most influential book on urban planning and cities. Widely read by both planning professionals and the general public, the book is a strong critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s, which, she claimed, destroyed communities and created isolated, unnatural urban spaces. Jacobs advocated the abolition of zoning laws and restoration of free markets in land, which would result in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods and frequently cited New York City's Greenwich Village as an example of a vibrant urban community.

Robert Caro has cited it as the strongest influence on The Power Broker, his Pulitzer-winning biography of Robert Moses, though Caro does not mention Jacobs by name even once in the book despite Jacobs' battles with Moses over his proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. Caro reportedly cut a chapter about Jacobs due to his book's length.[86]

Beyond the practical lessons in city design and planning that Death and Life offers, the theoretical underpinnings of the work challenge the modern development mindset. Jane Jacobs defends her positions with common sense and anecdotes.

The Economy of Cities

The thesis of this book is that cities are the primary drivers of economic development. Her main argument is that explosive economic growth derives from urban import replacement. Import replacement occurs when a city begins to locally produce goods that it formerly imported, e.g., Tokyo bicycle factories replacing Tokyo bicycle importers in the 1800s. Jacobs claims that import replacement builds up local infrastructure, skills, and production. Jacobs also claims that the increased production is subsequently exported to other cities, giving those other cities a new opportunity to engage in import replacement, thus producing a positive cycle of growth.

In an interview with Bill Steigerwald in Reason Magazine, Jacobs said that if she is remembered for being a great intellectual she will be remembered not for her work concerning city planning, but for the discovery of import replacement. Critics erroneously claim that her ideas parrot the idea of import substitution advanced earlier by scholars such as Andre Gunder Frank. Import substitution was a national economic theory implying that if a nation substituted its imports with national production the nation would become wealthier, whereas Jacob's idea is entirely about cities and could be called urban import substitution. However, even this would lead to confusion since in practice, import substitution in India and Latin America were government subsidized and mandated, whereas Jacobs' concept of import replacement is a free market process of discovery and division of labor within a city.[87]

In the second part of the book Jacobs argues that cities preceded agriculture. She argues that in cities trade in wild animals and grains allowed for the initial division of labor necessary for the discovery of husbandry and agriculture; these discoveries then moved out of the city due to land competition. Another interpretation of history, generally and erroneously considered to be contradictory to Jacobs' is supported by Marxist archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe and in recent times by another historical materialist Charles Keith Maisels[88][89] These writers argue that agriculture preceded cities. The apparent opposition between Childe and Jacobs theories rests in their definition of 'city,' 'civilization,' or 'urban.' Childe, like other materialists like Maisels or Henri Lefebvre defines 'urban' or 'civilization' as Synoecism—as a literate, socially stratified, monolithic political community,[90] whereas, as one can see from The Economy of Cities or from Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jacobs defines the city purely along the lines of geographically dense trade giving way to entrepreneurial discovery and subsequent improvements in the division of labor. Without the requirements of literacy, monumental building, or the signs of specialized civil and armed forces, 'cities' can be accurately be interpreted to exists thousands of years before when Childe and Maisels place them.

The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty

The Question of Separatism incorporated and expanded Jacobs’ presentation of the 1979 Massey Lectures, entitled Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association. Published in 1980 and reprinted in 2011 with a previously unpublished 2005 interview on the subject, Jacobs' book advances the view that Quebec's eventual independence is best for Montreal, Toronto, the rest of Canada, and the world; and that such independence can be achieved peacefully. As precedent, she cites Norway’s secession from Sweden and how it enriched both nations. The origins of the contemporary secessionist-movement in the Quiet Revolution are examined, along with Canada’s historical reliance on natural resources and foreign-owned manufacturing for its own economic development. Jacobs asserts that such an approach is colonial and hence backward, citing by example Canada buying its skis and furniture from Norway or Norwegian-owned factories in Canada, the latter procedure being a product of Canadian tariffs designed specifically to foster such factories. The relevant public views of René Lévesque, Claude Ryan, and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau are also critically analyzed, an example being their failure to recognize that two respective, independent currencies are essential to the success of an independent Quebec and a smaller resultant Canada, an issue that is central to her book. Jacobs stresses the need for Montreal to continue developing its leadership of Québécois culture, but that such a need can ultimately never be fulfilled by Montreal's increasing tendencies toward regional-city status, tendencies foretelling economic, political, and cultural subservience to English-speaking Toronto. Such an outcome, Jacobs believed, would in the long run doom Quebec's independence as much as it would hinder Canada's own future. She concludes with her observation that the popular equating of political secession with political and economic failure is the result of the Enlightenment, which perceived nature as a force for "standardization, uniformity, universality, and immutability." Since then, naturalists and their readers have gradually realized that nature is a force for diversity, and that, "diversity itself is of the essence of excellence." The right kind of secession, Jacobs states, can lead to the right kind of diversity, and Quebec and Canada are capable of both, and must achieve both, to survive.

Cities and the Wealth of Nations

Cities and the Wealth of Nations attempts to do for economics what The Death and Life of Great American Cities did for modern urban planning, though it has not received the same critical attention. Beginning with a concise treatment of classical economics, this book challenges one of the fundamental assumptions of the greatest economists. Classical (and Neo-classical) economists consider the nation-state to be the main player in macroeconomics. Jacobs argues that it is not the nation-state, rather it is the city which is the true player in this worldwide game. She restates the idea of import replacement from her earlier book The Economy of Cities, while speculating on the further ramifications of considering the city first and the nation second, or not at all.

Systems of Survival

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics moves outside of the city, studying the moral underpinnings of work. As with her other work, she used an observational approach. This book is written as a Platonic dialogue. It appears that she (as described by characters in her book) took newspaper clippings of moral judgements related to work, collected and sorted them to find that they fit two patterns of moral behaviour that were mutually exclusive. She calls these two patterns "Moral Syndrome A", or commercial moral syndrome, and "Moral Syndrome B", or guardian moral syndrome. She claims that the commercial moral syndrome is applicable to business owners, scientists, farmers, and traders. Similarly, she claims that the guardian moral syndrome is applicable to government, charities, hunter-gatherers, and religious institutions. She also claims that these Moral Syndromes are fixed, and do not fluctuate over time.

It is important to stress that Jane Jacobs is providing a theory about the morality of work, and not all moral ideas. Moral ideas that are not included in her syndrome are applicable to both syndromes.

Jane Jacobs goes on to describe what happens when these two moral syndromes are mixed, showing the work underpinnings of the Mafia and communism, and what happens when New York subway Police are paid bonuses here – reinterpreted slightly as a part of the larger analysis.

The Nature of Economies

The Nature of Economies, a dialog between friends concerning the premise: "human beings exist wholly within nature as part of the natural order in every respect" (p. ix), argues that the same principles underlie both ecosystems and economies: "development and co-development through differentiations and their combinations; expansion through diverse, multiple uses of energy; and self-maintenance through self-refueling" (p. 82).

Jacobs' characters discuss the four methods by which "dynamically stable systems" may evade collapse: "bifurcations; positive-feedback loops; negative-feedback controls; and emergency adaptations" (p. 86). Their conversations also cover the "double nature of fitness for survival" (traits to avoid destroying one's own habitat as well as success in competition to feed and breed, p. 119), and unpredictability including the butterfly effect characterized in terms of multiplicity of variables as well as disproportional response to cause, and self-organization where "a system can be making itself up as it goes along" (p. 137).

Through the dialogue, Jacobs' characters explore and examine the similarities between the functioning of ecosystems and economies. Topics include environmental and economic development, growth and expansion, and how economies and environments keep themselves alive through "self-refueling." Jacobs also comments on the nature of economic and biological diversity and its role in the development and growth of the two kinds of systems.

The book is infused with many real-world economic and biological examples, which help keep the book "down to earth" and comprehensible, if dense. Concepts are furnished with both economic and biological examples, showing their coherence in both worlds.

One particularly interesting insight is the creation of "something from nothing" – an economy from nowhere. In the biological world, free energy is given through sunlight, but in the economic world human creativity and natural resources supply this free energy, or at least starter energy. Another interesting insight is the creation of economic diversity through the combination of different technologies, for example the typewriter and television as inputs and outputs of a computer system: this can lead to the creation of "new species of work".

Dark Age Ahead

Published in 2004 by Random House, in Dark Age Ahead Jacobs argued that "North American" civilization showed signs of spiral of decline comparable to the collapse of the Roman empire. Her thesis focused on "five pillars of our culture that we depend on to stand firm," which can be summarized as the nuclear family (but also community), education, science, representational government and taxes, and corporate and professional accountability. As the title suggests, her outlook was far more pessimistic than in her previous books. However, in the conclusion she wrote that, "At a given time it is hard to tell whether forces of cultural life or death are in the ascendancy. Is suburban sprawl, with its murders of communities and wastes of land, time, and energy, a sign of decay? Or is rising interest in means of overcoming sprawl a sign of vigor and adaptability in North American culture? Arguably, either could turn out to be true." As suggested by the title, Jacobs was not optimistic about the future when writing this book.[91]


Orthodox urbanism

Jane Jacobs says in her work The Death and Life of Great American Cities that the sources of the orthodox urbanism are:

See also


  1. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 9.
  2. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 15–16.
  3. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 20–21.
  4. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 3–5.
  5. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 22–23.
  6. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 23–24.
  7. Allen, Max (ed), ed. (1997-10-01). Ideas that Matter: The Worlds of Jane Jacobs. Ginger Press. ISBN 0-921773-44-7.CS1 maint: extra text: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 10.
  9. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 11.
  10. Peter L. Laurence (2011) "The Unknown Jane Jacobs," Reconsidering Jane Jacobs (Chicago: Planners Press, 2011).
  11. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 25–27.
  12. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 29–30. "The suburbs did not appeal to the Jacobs family. 'Suburbs are perfectly valid places to want to live, but they are inherently parasitic, economically and socially, too, because they live off the answers found in cities,' Jacobs would tell a reporter for Madmoiselle magazine in October 1962."
  13. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 14.
  14. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 30–31.
  15. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 16.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Allen, pg. 170
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Laurence, Peter L. “The Death and Life of Urban Design: Jane Jacobs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New Research in Urbanism, 1955–65”, Journal of Urban Design 11 (June 2006), pp. 145–72.
  18. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 33.
  19. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 34.
  20. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 39–40."'...I said, "Where are the people?" [Bacon] didn't answer. He only said, "They don't appreciate these things."' At that moment, Jacobs realized that the high-rise projects that Bacon was so proud of had been designed with total disregard for the people who would actually inhabit them."
  21. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 19–20.
  22. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 41. "When Jacobs returned to New York from Philadelphia, she began arguing with her Architectural Forum editors. All the hyped new projects that planners and architects were building in the cities, she told them, bore no relation to what people actually needed."
  23. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 43–49.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 24–26.
  25. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 57–59.
  26. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 60.
  27. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 26–27.
  28. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 27–28.
  29. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 62.
  30. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 28.
  31. Laurence, Peter L. “The Death and Life of Urban Design: Jane Jacobs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New Research in Urbanism, 1955–65”, Journal of Urban Design 11 (June 2006), pp. 145–72.[1]
  32. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 76.
  33. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 83–90.
  34. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 135–36.
  35. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 119.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 149.
  37. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 78.
  38. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 50–52.
  39. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), pp. 83–84.
  40. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. 85.
  41. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 117.
  42. Flint, Wrestling with Moses (2009), p. xiv.
  43. Clark Whelton, "Won't you come home, Jane Jacobs?", Village Voice, 6 July 1974, pp. 1, 24.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Martin, D (2006) ‘Jane Jacobs, Urban Activist, Is Dead at 89’, The New York Times, Online, Accessed 14 May 2011, Created 25 April 2006, URL: <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/books/25cnd-jacobs.html?pagewanted=print>
  45. American Experience: New York Disc 7; People & Events: The Planning Debate in New York, 1955-1975, PBS film description.
  46. Caro, Robert. Remarks at the presentation of the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal
  47. Fernandez, Manny. City Room: Caro Speaks to the Spirit of Jane Jacobs New York Times (September 9, 2008)
  48. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), pp. 149–51.
  49. Alexiou, Jane Jacobs (2006), p. 152.
  50. James Howard Kunstler (September 6, 2000). "Interview with Jane Jacobs, part 2". Retrieved 2014-04-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. "The Jane Jacobs Prize". Ideas that Matter. Retrieved 2006-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  52. http://www.eyeweekly.com/eye/issue/issue_10.03.02/news/airport.php
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  54. http://www.omb.gov.on.ca/e-decisions/pl050662_%233420.pdf
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  56. Wikens, Stephen quote=Brent Toderian, Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver says of Jacobs: “There isn't a person or book more influential in creating ‘Vancouverism' than Jane and The Death and Life”. (May 6, 2011). "Jane Jacobs: Honoured in the breach". Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 11, 2012. Missing pipe in: |author= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  57. Martin, Sandra (2006-04-26). "Urban expert Jane Jacobs dies at 89yrs". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). Retrieved 2009-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  60. Hannum, Hildegarde, ed. (1997). People, Land, and Community. Introduction by Nancy Jack Todd. E. F. Schumacher Society, pp. 8 and 105–06. ISBN 978-0-300-07173-3.
  61. Satin, Mark (2004). Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now. Westview Press and Basic Books, p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8133-4190-3.
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  63. Edward Glaeser (January 19, 2007). "Great Cities Need Great Builders". The New York Sun. Retrieved July 1, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  64. Howe, R (2005) ‘The Spirit of Melbourne: 1960s Urban Activism in Inner-City Melbourne’ in Seamus O’Hanlon and Tanja Luckins (Eds) Go! Melbourne in the Sixties, Circa: Beaconsfield, pp. 218–30
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  66. Goldsmith, A. and Elizabeth, L. (2010) What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs, New Village Press: Oakland, California
  67. 67.0 67.1 Lang, G. and Wunsch, M. (2009) Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death and Life of Great American Cities, David R. Godine: New York
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  72. "Rockefeller Foundation news advisory" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  73. The Jane Jacobs Medal Created by Rockefeller, The New York Sun, Feb. 9, 2007
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  76. 2011 announcement, Canadian Urban Institute
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  86. Oder, Norman. "The Missing Jane Jacobs Chapter in The Power Broker". http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com. Retrieved 9 October 2007. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  87. http://reason.com/archives/2001/06/01/city-views
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Further reading

External links