Paying Homage to Jane Jacobs
Many have felt the need to investigate commonplaces dealt with by Jane Jacobs. Sonia Hirt, a Virginia Tech professor whose specialty is post-Soviet Eastern European urban planning, found the pretext to do so in an issue that The Journal of Architectural and Planning Research did on the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities on this book’s fiftieth anniversary. The influence of Jacobs’s thesis among both followers and detractors was of such magnitude that the number of articles written for the monograph exceeded the format of the magazine, and the project became a book.
The texts come in chapters addressing the work of Jacobs from philosophical, economic, sociological, and design perspectives; a dissection that may not tally with Jacobs’s holisticism, but illustrates her wide expertise. Many pieces downplay the influence of space on behavior (what Herberg Hans had in 1968 called the ‘fallacy of physical determinism’) with quantitative approaches contrasting with the near-ethnographic method of Jacobs, who changed how we saw cities – from a statistical bird’s eye view to a streetlevel plan of individual experience. The more interesting articles deal with other Jacobsian ideas: the ‘sidewalk ballet’ (tackled by anthropologist Manuel Delgado, who is treated like an academic of the caliber of Lefevbre in Fraser’s text), the importance of diversity (Talen), complexity (Barnett), or a certain urban ethic (Kidder), not to mention the speculative exercise of Saskia Sassen examining her global city concept from a Jacobsian angle.