Cities

Jane Jacobs at 100

On Jane Jacobs' 100th birthday, we look back at Reason's coverage of the great defender of urban freedom.

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Look at all my birthday cards!
Library of Congress

Jane Jacobs, that great student of cities and the freedoms that allow them to thrive, was born 100 years ago today. (She died in 2006.) We've run a lot about Jacobs in Reason over the years; here is a selection of our stories about her:

• Bill Steigerwald, "City Views" (June 2001): The Reason interview with Jacobs, in which she talks about the evils of eminent domain, her disappointment with the New Urbanism, the trouble with monopoly transit, and much else.

• Jesse Walker, "Jacobean Tragedy" (July 1998): My article argues that a certain sort of city planner has read Jacobs but not digested her, "bastardizing her empirical observations of how cities work into a formula they want to impose not just on cities but on suburbs and small towns as well."

• Damon Root, "Building and Rebuilding New York" (May 2010): A look back at Jacobs' battles with New York's über-planner, Robert Moses.

• Virginia Postrel, "Monstrous Hybrids" (June 1997): What Jane Jacobs' book Systems of Survival could teach the Clinton administration. (That's the historic Clinton administration, not the one waiting in the wings.)

• Jesse Walker, "That Time Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan Made a Movie Together" (September 19, 2014): One of my Friday A/V Club posts. The title is self-explanatory.

• Various Artists, "Yesterday's Tomorrows: 1968-1998" (December 1998): Reason asked a slew of writers to talk about books that got the future right and books that got the future wrong. Walter Olson, Randal O'Toole, and Lynn Scarlett all put Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities in their "right" column.

We've also run brief items on everything from a little-known book that Jacobs compiled in the 1940s to a rock opera about her battles with Robert Moses to an actual opera-opera about her battles with Robert Moses. (Those must have been very operatic battles.) And in 2003, we selected Jacobs as one of 35 heroes of freedom. "Few others," we wrote, "did as much to defend the lives people forged for themselves against the static visions planning elites love to impose."

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  1. Robert Poole must have a picture of Jane Jacobs on his office dartboard.

  2. And in a fit of justice, Robert Moses grave was eminent-domained.

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  4. The sheer amountof praise heaped on this woman’s books is astonishing. See the hilariously vain Richard Florida’ article about her today in CityLab; he even supplies a photo portrait of himself with her. Like Jacobs, he isn’t much interested in economics, and most of the hits on Google for “Jane Jacobs” right now are about micro structural racism, queer spaces, etc. We will divide oursleves whatever the planners think of it (or they are actively endorsing social division themselves these days) as rich whites continue to displace poorer minorities while lecturing less affluent whites that they are to blame!

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