736Dedication – Mrs. Jane Jacob s: Activist, author, example
- May 29, 2007
I would like to invite your comments and suggestions on the following which I have drafted this morning by way of dedication to the first volume in the Reinventing Transport in Cities series.
I thought it might interest the many of you here who know and appreciate her work, and if you have any further thoughts or suggestions for me on this, it would be great to have them privately so that I can think about them as I move toward completion of this tough task.
"Probably no single thinker has done more in the last fifty years to transform our ideas about the nature of urban life." -- Chicago Tribune, April 26th, 2006
Jane Jacobs, 1916 – 2006, who with her path-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities and through the years of work and daily life example which followed, almost single handedly opened up the way to new thinking about our cites and the ways in which we shape them through out transportation arrangements. In "Death and Life" she wrote so many years ago:
"Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problems of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can't."
So if today we finally are starting to understand that we need to reinvent transport in our cities, what better place could we have to start than the work of Mrs. Jacobs. And in addition to her quiet work as thinker and writer, we should not forget her role as a concerned citizen and passionate activist for the ideas she put on paper. Her beliefs were not just comfortable abstractions, and more than once we showed her willingness to prove it on the street:
"Mrs. Jacobs' Protest Results in Riot Charge: -- The New York Times, April 18, 1968
Jane Jacobs, a nationally known writer on urban problems, was arraigned in Criminal Court yesterday and charged with second-degree riot, inciting to riot and criminal mischief. The police had originally charged that Mrs. Jacobs tried to disrupt a public meeting on the controversial Lower Manhattan Expressway. 'The inference seems to be,' Mrs. Jacobs said, 'that anybody who criticizes a state program is going to get it in the neck.'"
We miss her greatly, but now we have the opportunity to advance her ideas and philosophy as we set about the necessary task of reinventing transport in our cities. It is only right that the Rockefeller Foundation should have recently their creation of the Jane Jacobs Medal to honor her as an activist, author and urbanist. After all it was back in 1958 that they made a first small grant which permitted her to write Death and Life. What luck it would be for our cities and our planet if they are able to find a few more like her.
Eric Britton, Paris, Tuesday, 29 May 2007
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