The scourge of the city planners has died, aged 89. Has there ever been a better book on the joys of urban life than The Death and Life of Great American Cities? I like it almost as much as The Power Broker, Robert Caro's portrait of Jacobs' great foe, Robert Moses, the man who came close to handing over Manhattan to the motor car:
City Journal offers a tribute:
Jacobs still has much to offer us, but not what is commonly assumed. She dared to follow the logic of her own observation in ways that led her to oppose much that the Left stood for. The real Jane Jacobs not only enjoyed busy city blocks but deplored high levels of welfare spending that inhibit urban economies. The real Jane Jacobs not only enjoyed the great variety of small businesses which cities offer, but questioned the public operation of services such as transit that preempt the formation of private competitors.
As this interview demonstrates, she had her reservations about modern New York (don't we all?) But she believed its human heart was still beating:
People looking for a date on Third Avenue make it into a place full of hope and expectation, and this has nothing to do with architecture. Those are the emotions that draw us to cities, and they depend on things being a bit messy. The most perfectly designed place can’t compete. Everything is provided, which is the worst thing we can provide.
There’s a joke that the father of an old friend used to tell, about a preacher who warns children, 'In Hell there will be wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 'What if you don’t have teeth?’ one of the children asks. 'Then teeth will be provided,' he says sternly. That’s it—the spirit of the designed city: Teeth Will Be Provided for You."
I had no idea she'd been portrayed on the stage. Can you imagine her as Le Corbusier's lover?