Jacobs, Jane 1916-2006

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JACOBS, Jane 1916-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born May 4, 1916, in Scranton, PA; died April 25, 2006, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Journalist, editor, and author. Best described as an urban theorist, Jane Jacobs was renowned for her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she countered the aesthetic ideas of most modern architects and urban planners by asserting that cities thrive best in densely populated areas with easy-to-access services. A quirky child who got into trouble at school for her pranks, she had a habit of conducting imaginary dialogues with Thomas Jefferson. Although intelligent and inquisitive, Jacobs had no desire to attend college. Instead, she worked for the Scranton Tribune as an assistant before moving to New York City. Once there, she worked as a secretary for five years and began contributing articles to magazines. Eventually, she attended Columbia University for two years, studying topics ranging from economics and political science to zoology and geology. During World War II, she worked for the Office of War Information, and from 1952 to 1962 was an editor for the Architectural Forum. It was while at this publication that she noticed some of the effects of urban planning in Philadelphia. Designers were under the impression that inner cities needed to be aesthetically pleasing, with new, gleaming skyscrapers surrounded by open space and neat landscaping. Jacobs, however, observed that such areas were almost empty of pedestrians, while older areas were heavily trafficked. After she wrote an article for Fortune in 1958 about her ideas that a seemingly chaotic urban area can actually be much more alive and vital, the story engendered interest from the Rockefeller Foundation, which gave her a grant to write a book on the subject. This became The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which proposed that cities encourage dense and ethnically diverse populations, a mix of architecture and services, and short blocks for easy access to buildings. This ran counter to everything urban modernists advocated. Her later books would expand upon this idea in relation to states, nations, and even the international economy. Also an activist, Jacobs protested a 1961 City Planning Commission about a plan to renew Greenwich Village, and she was once arrested for protesting the draft during the Vietnam War. On her husband's suggestion, they left America with their two sons to protect them from the draft, settling in Toronto. Here she created controversy again with The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (1980), in which she advocated that Quebec break away from the rest of Canada. Among her other books are The Economy of Cities (1969), Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life (1984), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her last book, Dark Age Ahead (2004). Also awarded the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award and the Architecture Critics' Medal, in 2005 Jacobs earned the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing.



New York Times, April 26, 2006, p. A1.