Becoming Jane Jacobs

“an intellectual biography of the architecture critic and neo-functionist Jane Jacobs and how she came to write the 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Beginning with Jacobs’s arrival in New York City in 1934 with only a high school diploma and writing aspirations Laurence follows her career to the pages of Architectural Forum under the editorial direction of Douglas Haskell. At the magazine she honed her critical skills and was exposed to the latest in urban design and renewal working with leading architects and planners. Laurence argues that there are persistent myths about Jacobs, including her status as a housewife and an amateur urban activist who surprisingly wrote a classic, or a genius. Rather, Jacobs transformed herself into a sophisticated critic influenced by the ideas of a wide circle of intellectuals and wrote a great deal before and after her most well known work. Death and Life of Great American Cities synthesized many previous ideas and proposed a new way to think about cities that considered the social networks and perspective of the person on the street rather than top-down planning that disregarded the human element for efficiency and form. Her vision for the city was of a living system with flexibility, creativity, and diversity offering a sense of connection by mixing the old and the new. Laurence offers not only the evolution of Jacobs’s ideas but also the ways mid-century intellectuals conceived of the cities we now live in.

Peter L. Laurence, “Becoming Jane Jacobs” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)


About dmf

alienist @ large, mostly on foot
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