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Jane Jacobs, renowned urban activist, dead at 89
By Wojtek Dabrowski

TORONTO, April 25 (Reuters) - Jane Jacobs, the social activist and renowned urban development critic, died Tuesday at age 89.

Jacobs, an American-born Canadian, is best known for her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," which, since its publication in 1961, has become a standard text on urban issues.

Jacobs, who was born in Scranton, Pa., advocated density and mixed use in communities, staunchly opposed large highways and warned of urban sprawl.

She moved to Canada from the United States in the late 1960s, concerned about her two sons being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.

"Jane Jacobs will be remembered as one of the great urban thinkers of our time," Toronto Mayor David Miller said in a statement. "Her contributions and insights have forever changed the way North American cities are developed."

Neil Thomlinson, associate professor of city politics at Ryerson University, said Jacobs had a profound impact on transforming the way major metropolitan centers are developed.

"Until she came along, the planning industry was just very technocratic and not about people," Thomlinson said. "I think you'd be hard pressed to go anywhere (now) where people are talking about the development of large urban centers and not see her influence."

On May 9, 1996, Jacobs was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

"Her seminal writings and thought-provoking commentaries on urban development have had a tremendous effect on city dwellers, planners and architects," her citation on the Order of Canada Web site states. "By stimulating discussion, change and action, she has helped to make Canadian city streets and neighborhoods vibrant, liveable and workable for all."

In a 2001 interview for Reason magazine, she spoke about the distinctive nature each city should possess.

"It should be like itself. Every city has differences, from its history, from its site, and so on. These are important," she said. "One of the most dismal things is when you go to a city and it's like 12 others you've seen. That's not interesting, and it's not really truthful."
 

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JANE JACOBS, 1916-2006
27 April 2006
The Boston Globe

JANE JACOBS, the groundbreaking urban thinker who died Tuesday, never made her home in Boston, but she had strong views on how the city had changed and great affection for one neighborhood that hadn't: the North End. Her 1961 book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," influenced many people who would guide development of the city in the 1970s and '80s and more by what they didn't build than what they did.

"It was a great experience to read her book," said Frederick Salvucci, former state secretary of transportation in a telephone interview yesterday. "She was writing what I was thinking."

Jacobs wasn't antiautomobile, but she detested expressways that cut through urban neighborhoods. In the 1960s, she helped defeat a plan to slice a highway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan, where she lived. Salvucci and other activists drew inspiration from her insights as they fought to spare Boston and Cambridge from the Inner Belt and the Southwest Expressway.

Jacobs didn't have much use for the concept of high buildings scattered about plazas: "vertical concentrations of people, separated by vacuities," she called them. "She altered the way people thought about cities," said Beatrice Nessen, one of the leaders of the successful struggle to prevent construction of Park Plaza, a high-rise complex between Tremont and Arlington streets in the 1970s.

"Her book was a beacon," said Stephen Coyle, who read it as an undergraduate at Brandeis. When he became director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1984, Jacobs's insights guided BRA policy to insist on active public uses for the first floors of commercial buildings. Jacobs's thinking guided the authority as it stressed the necessity of neighborhood input into development. "She allowed alternative thinking to grow up, that all wisdom did not reside in those in power, " Coyle said.

Jacobs is given credit for the concepts behind the creation of Quincy Market, which gave the city a common meeting space she found lacking in 1961. She liked best, however, the messiness of life in Greenwich Village or the North End, and her ideal urban village was enlivened by the frolic of children, which was the norm when she wrote "Death and Life," during the postwar baby boom.

These two remain successful neighborhoods, but gentrification has largely robbed them of large families. "The streets were alive with children playing, people shopping, people strolling, people talking," she wrote of a visit to the North End in 1959. New advocates for the cities will have to devise ways to get life in all its varieties back to the urban spaces that Jacobs loved.
 
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