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James Gulliver Hancock

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Celebrating Jane Jacobs

The legacy and life of a great American urbanist

The writer, activist, and urban theorist Jane Jacobs was born 100 years ago today. Best known for her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs pulled together her experiences as an architecture journalist, New York City resident, and long-time observer of urban life (she grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, watching the city’s slow economic decline) to form her ideas about how cities and neighborhoods work best. In the book, which she called "an attack" on established ideas of city planning, Jacobs argued strongly for urban density and diversity.

Today, in honor of what would have been Jacobs’s 100th birthday (she died in 2006), we’ve asked a number of writers and illustrators to cover significant aspects of her life. Illustrator James Gulliver Hancock introduces us to the key tenets of Jacobs’s work. James Nevius and Shawn Micallef narrate Jacobs’s activism and influence in New York and Toronto. Alexandra Lange discusses Jacobs’s legacy as a pop culture character, and Patrick Sisson explains her impact on today’s architects and urban planners. When you’re done reading, take our quiz to find out how Jane Jacobs might have evaluated your neighborhood.

James Gulliver Hancock

An Illustrated Guide to Jane Jacobs

In honor of Jane Jacobs's 100th birthday, artist James Gulliver Hancock has created an illustration of Jacobs's principles, commissioned by Curbed, the Municipal Art Society, and the Project for Public Spaces.

See the illustration and find out how to win a poster featuring the design.

Paul Rudolph/Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and the Battle Over LOMEX

After clashing with Robert Moses over the future of Washington Square and the slum designation of her own West Village neighborhood, Jane Jacobs had one final New York City fight in her: the battle over the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX). Writer James Nevius traces Jacobs’s rise to prominence as an urban activist, her clashes with Moses, her strategies for defeating LOMEX, and what the LOMEX fight meant for her legacy in New York.

Read the story here.


Jane Up North

After Jane Jacobs left New York, she and her family moved to Toronto, where Jacobs promptly became involved in another major urban planning battle. She lived in Toronto for the rest of her life, and today, writer Shawn Micallef explains, she’s remembered as Toronto urbanists’ patron saint.

Read the story here.

Joshua Frankel

Imagining Jane Jacobs

Years after her most famous book was published, Jane Jacobs lives on in our imaginations and in popular culture, in graphic novels, documentaries, a Twitter feed, and even an opera. Alexandra Lange looks at how writers, artists, and filmmakers have turned Jacobs into a character.

Read the story here.

Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Jane in Today's City

For many urban planners, Jane Jacobs's books are more sacred tablets than textbooks, which makes evaluating her legacy for modern urban planners on what would be her 100th birthday a tricky thing. Here, Patrick Sisson looks at how Jacobs's work has been subject to faithful covers, intriguing remixes, and tragic reinterpretations.

Read the story here.

Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Quiz: What Would Jane Jacobs Think of Your Neighborhood?

"What would Jane Jacobs think?" has been a question in urban planning and urbanist circles for years. That's no surprise—after reading her work, it's impossible to walk around a city without an internal Jacobs meter evaluating the lengths of blocks or the mix of old and new buildings. With this quiz, test the neighborhoods where you spend time on how well they meet Jacobs's criteria for a vibrant city.

Take the quiz here.

Writers: James Nevius, Shawn Micallef, Alexandra Lange, Patrick Sisson
Editor: Sara Polsky
Copy Editor: Adrian Glick Kudler


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