Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jane Jacobs passes on (paca)

I just saw this post over at Yahoo News. Jane Jacobs has passed away at 89. I first encountered Ms. Jacobs' work when I was living in Spring Hill, TN and became concerned about the way that the town was growing. Spring Hill was a town of 1000 when the Saturn plant moved in around 1990. It was about 10,000 when N and I moved in in 98 and getting close to 20,000 when we left in 2004. However, like the rest of America, the entire town was turning from a farming community with a small commercial section to a highway strip with strip shopping centers and bedroom community developments full of people who lived in the town but left it as soon as they woke up. I kept thinking that Spring Hill could be growing into a really cool little town that is different from the rest, with a unique identity. Instead it was just a bunch of parking lots and chain stores and looked like a thousand other towns its size. In looking for some sort of alternative, I came up with the name Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs is an urban planner, activist, and general eclectic thinker. In the early 60s she wrote "The Life and Death of Great American Cities" which challenged the notions of what a city should be like. She wanted intersecting, diverse, pedestrian based bustling places, and not clean organized cities based around efficient roads and isolated neighborhoods. Apparently, it is read now in all urban planning programs, though I haven't read it myself. You can get a feel for the book by reading her Yahoo obituary, and it is her classic, most famous work.

I did read large sections of "Systems of Survival" (and "The Nature of Economies"), which has a central idea in it, that I still carry with me. Essentially, she tried to contrast commercial and governmental systems of living. Each has its own virtues and drawbacks, and, she argued, usually bad things happen when the two get crossed. The mafia is an example of a hybrid between the commercial, since they make their money buying and selling, and the governmental in that they use force and discipline to control others. I think that there are strong limitations to this idea of hers, but there is a core which seems right. Whenever I talk about government not getting involved in certain activities, because government is naturally not any good at that sort of thing, I am spouting my version of Jane Jacobs.

So, this is my little salute to her. Thank you for bringing new ideas in the world for the rest of us to work with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up, Paca. I was not aware of her works, but the issues you mention are of great concern to me. I appreciate the thoughtful way you approach current events, and this is another example of the good information that you tend to blog.

Tony S.