Monday, August 14, 2017

Where is Jane Jacobs When We Need Her?

"Big plans make mistakes, and when the plans are very big the mistakes can be very big also."

Jane Jacobs, "Can Big Plans Solve the Problem of Renewal?" in Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs. Edited by Samuel Zip and Nathan Storring, 2016.

I was looking forward to seeing Citizen Jane: Battle for the City this Spring but was disappointed. Of course it was good to see her speak, listen to her words and observe mid-century NYC.  But it was an old story told many times, especially in the spate of recent books about her. And her life-work was interpreted by a gang of aging urbanologists, not a one of them, as I remember, known for their grassroots neighborhood advocacy.  So, in the middle of a documentary about someone I greatly admire I felt bored.

I walked home from the theater and reflected on my discontent.  I wanted to learn about the Jane Jacobs of today -- in contemporary U.S. cities and cities, around the world. Who was fighting big plans? Who was nurturing and protecting neighborhood street life and innovation? What would Jane say about new urbanism, gentrification and DIY community building? Icons are great, I suppose, but Jane Jacobs was about innovation and dynamism in the face of big public and private solutions. I could use an updated dose or two of Jane Jacobs.

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