Jane Jacobs | Bleader

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jane Jacobs

Posted By on 01.14.07 at 06:28 AM

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Forty-six years ago a housewife who'd barely graduated from high school hurled an intellectual grenade into the dark heart of modernist city planning, Robert Moses's New York City. Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities remains readable today, more so perhaps than its contemporary blockbusters, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Alice Sparberg Alexiou's new biography can't match Jacobs's own knife-sharp prose, but it does put Jacobs's books in the context of a consistently rebellious life. Jacobs reminds me of another "undereducated" contrarian, George Orwell. Ideological jackals will be fighting for a long time over both authors' work. Jacobs's insistence on spontaneous order -- the city, she said, cannot be a work of art -- makes her sound libertarian, but she told off a reporter who tried to put antigovernment cant into her mouth.

What sticks in my mind is her takedown of onetime ally and later critic Lewis Mumford: "Maybe if he'd lived at a different time," she said long after his death and shortly before her own, "he would have understood that women didn't necessarily aspire to be patronized. He believed that women were a sort of a ladies' auxiliary of the human race."

Tags: , , ,


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Harold Henderson

  • The Recyclable House

    The Recyclable House

    If Ken Ortiz has his way, no one in Chicago will ever simply "demolish" a building again.
    • Jul 24, 2008
  • Sympathy for the Devil?

    Sympathy for the Devil?

    Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country.
    • Jan 24, 2008
  • Dynamic Flash for Democrats

    Dynamic Flash for Democrats

    Wanna raise funds to run for office? Nag Schwarzenegger about health care? Or just make fun of Bush? Call Articulated Man.
    • Jan 10, 2008
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Broken Bone Bathtub Humboldt Park
October 30
Galleries & Museums
Melanie Smith Logan Center for the Arts
November 11

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories