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Jane Jacobs Dies

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs, the dazzlingly intelligent thinker who revolutionized urban planning by actually looking at city life instead of merely expounding on it from an ivory tower, died this morning in Toronto. She was 89.

Jacobs, whose seminal 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities is only now sinking in with city planning departments, was always several decades ahead of her time.

By the time others caught up with her analysis of street life, Jacobs had moved on to city economics, the actual workings of trade and import substitution (again, as opposed to theories that sprung from ideologies), and the means that systems use to stabilize themselves.

Her 1994 book The Nature of Economies described economies as ecologogical systems that evolve according to a complex, densely interacting tree-like model of development, differentiation, and recombination, rather than the linear, mechanistic progression that limits conventional economic theory.

I recently read her most recent - probably her last - book Dark Age Ahead, and I fear that her analysis of what our society faces in coming years is far too insightful and sensible to be taken seriously by policy makers. Every page was an epiphany.

Her no-nonsense, observation-based, and cant-free approach to her subjects granted her access to insights that most other analysts would be too blinkered to consider. She drew ideas from a wide variety of fields, cross-fertilizing each field as she travelled and bringing them together with a coherence for which most thinkers can only dream.

I had the privilege of attending her last lecture in Hamilton a couple of years ago, and was delighted with her quick wit, lively banter, and razor-sharp intelligence.

Raise the Hammer attempted to contact Mrs. Jacobs for an interview last year, only to be advised that she was too busy working on her latest book to grant interviews.

She will be missed.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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