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"LUA" 2006 Obituary


LU o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-04-26 published
She wrote the book on cities
By Warren GERARD, Special To The Star with files from Paul MOLONEY, Royson JAMES and Vanessa LU
Jane JACOBS was an urban fable.
She was a writer, intellectual, analyst, ethicist and moral thinker, activist, self-made economist and a fearless critic of inflexible authority.
JACOBS died yesterday in a Toronto hospital. She was 89. Her 90th birthday would have been next week.
An American who chose to be Canadian, JACOBS was a leader in the fights to preserve neighbourhoods and kill expressways, first in New York City, and then in Toronto.
Her efforts to stop the proposed expressway between Manhattan Bridge on east Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel on the west contributed toward saving SoHo, Chinatown, and the western part of Greenwich Village.
In Toronto, her leadership galvanized the movement that stopped the proposed Spadina Expressway. It would have cut a swath through the lively Annex neighbourhood and parts of the downtown.
Toronto Mayor David Miller, who called JACOBS both a friend and a mentor, interrupted yesterday's city council meeting to announce to his colleagues that JACOBS had died.
"The power of her ideas is what helped make this city choose a different path, a path where you have vibrant downtown neighbourhoods where people could live, a path where you didn't have expressways cutting through neighbourhoods," Miller told reporters.
"She gave me all sorts of advice over time. The way she gave you advice was she invited you over for tea. And you had tea and you talked and if you were smart, you kept quiet and you listened because you could really learn from Jane JACOBS."
Her son, Ned JACOBS, said in an interview from Vancouver that his mother had been in hospital for a few days.
"She died of old age. She just wore out," he said. "Every part of her was worn out. She was working as best she could right to the end."
Her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, became a Bible for neighbourhood organizers and what she termed the "foot people."
It made the case against the utopian planning culture of the times -- residential highrise development, expressways through city hearts, slum clearances and desolate downtowns.
She believed that residential and commercial activity should be in the same place, that the safest neighbourhoods teem with life, short winding streets are better than long straight ones, lowrise housing is better than impersonal towers, that a neighbourhood is where people talk to one another. She liked the small-scale.
Former Toronto mayor David CROMBIE said that while people see her as a city builder, affecting the city form, her impact was much bigger and deeper.
"The most important thing she did for me and us was remind us that ideas matter, and the ideas that were most important are the ones that mattered to us," CROMBIE said. "She also believed you take action. You don't have ideas and go away. There is a direct connection of thought and action."
JACOBS, born May 4, 1916, grew up in Scranton, the centre of Pennsylvania coal country.
"I came from a family where women had worked, mostly as schoolteachers, for quite a few generations. I had a great-aunt who went to Alaska and taught Indians. My mother had worked as a schoolteacher, then a nurse. She became the night supervising nurse at an important hospital in Philadelphia," she was quoted.
"Those were traditional women's occupations, to be sure. But I did grow up with the idea that women could do things, and in my own family I was treated much the same as my brothers."
Finishing high school, she trained as a stenographer but got an unpaid job as a reporter at the local newspaper. JACOBS moved to New York City in the Depression years and wrote a few articles for Vogue.
Then, at age 22, she went to Columbia University, but that didn't last and after two years she returned to writing.
She married Robert JACOBS in 1944. He was an architect and it was his work that got her interested in Architectural Forum, a monthly magazine, where after a short time she went to work, becoming a senior editor.
Theirs was a close relationship and a happy marriage. It was to last for 52 years before he died of lung cancer at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital, a hospital he had designed.
In 1958, after writing about downtowns for Fortune magazine, Mrs. JACOBS received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to write about cities.
In 1968, JACOBS and her family moved to Toronto. They didn't want their two draft-age sons, Jim and Ned, to serve in the Vietnam War.
Toronto was ripe for JACOBS. She wasn't here long before plans were revealed to build the Spadina Expressway, which promised to cut a strip through the city, making it easier for suburbanites to commute in and out of the downtown. She wrote a newspaper article highly critical of city planners for their vision to "Los Angelize" what she described as "the most hopeful and healthy city in North America, still unmangled, still with options."
In an unrequited sentiment, odd as it might seem, planners adored JACOBS. She described them this way, however. "First of all, our official planning departments seem to be brain-dead in the sense that we cannot depend on them in any way, shape or form for providing intellectual leadership in addressing urgent problems involving the physical future of the city."
JACOBS galvanized local citizens against the planners and politicians in what became known as the Stop Spadina movement.
For the most part, JACOBS' books were an intellectual progression, each taking her thoughts on cities and economies a step further.
Paul BEDFORD, retired Toronto chief planner, said JACOBS had been a key supporter of the radical plan in the mid-'90s to relax planning rules to spur new ideas in the King-Spadina and King-Parliament areas that were formerly industrial and in decline.
BEDFORD credited JACOBS for encouraging him to take risks and experiment.
"We abolished the density numbers, the land use designations and put in place an urban design framework. Really it was about encouraging re-use of buildings and opening up the uses to allow residential.
"I remember her words specifically, to me and to Barbara (HALL:) She said this must work. You must be successful at this and get it right.
"She gave me the notion as chief planner that I had to take the lead, be visible, communicate with the people on all fronts. It was to bring planning to the people and demystify it. It gave me the courage to be an agent of change rather than an agent of the bureaucracy."
As well as The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, and The Question of Separatism, JACOBS wrote other books including Cities and the Wealth of Nations; Systems of Survival: A Dialogue; A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska; The Nature of Economies and Dark Age Ahead.
Following the death of her husband, JACOBS continued to live in her three-storey brick house on Albany Ave., a tree-lined street in the Annex neighbourhood she helped preserve.
She wrote in an upstairs office on a typewriter, refusing to use a computer. Her son, Jim, an inventor, lived close by and another son, Ned, worked for the Vancouver Parks Board and is a musician. Her daughter, Burgin, is an artist and lives in New Denver, B.C.
The shelves of her study were filled with books on chaos theory and the sciences, subjects that stimulated her own thinking.
Shortly after writing The Nature of Economies, she was quoted as saying: "I think I'm living in a marvellous age when great change is occurring. We now see that there is no straight-line cause and effect. Things are connected by webs.
"This understanding comes from advances in the life-sciences, and it opens up the possibility of understanding all kinds of things we haven't understood before. I think it's very exciting."
As for her own life, she said the following: "Really, I've had a very easy life.
"By easy I don't mean just lying around, but I haven't been put upon, really. And it's been luck mostly. Being brought up in a time when women weren't put down, that's luck. Being in a family where I wasn't put down, that's luck. Finding the right man to marry, that's the best luck! Having nice children, healthy children, that's luck.
"All these lucky things."
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