Drawing by Dhiru Thadani

Saint Jane

Note: 2016 is the centennial of the birth of Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs’s pivotal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is the most influential American text about the inner workings of cities—of how they fail but also of how cities succeed. Since its publication in 1961, the book has inspired generations of urban planners, and her efforts have invigorated community-based solutions which favor walking and transit over automobile transportation.

Remarkably, Jacobs had no professional training in planning, instead she relied on her observations and common sense to illustrate why certain places worked and were loved by citizens and why other places were not.

Successful cities have continued to heed the book’s rational advice, but many cities have lost their way. Lessons offered by Jacobs are too often ignored in the building of new habitations the world over, especially in developing countries such as China and India. The relentless imitation of the failed American auto-centric paradigm has produced the same global tribulations within an accelerated time span. 

These problems include:
1. Dependency on fossil fuel transportation modes and long commute times,
2. Excessive carbon dioxide emissions,
3. Poor air quality,
4. Failing public health,
5. Mono-cultures of land use,
6. Economic segregation of the urban population,
7. Disconnection with natural landscape, and
8. Substandard quality-of-life.