Who is Jane Jacobs?

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urban planner and activist whose writings argued for an original, community-based approach to understanding, organizing, designing and building cities. She placed walking at the heart of the displacements in the city. Her vision values ​​citizen expertise, history and symbolism, as well as community networking. Although she did not have formal training in development, her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and the following were successful.

After Jane Jacobs passed away in 2006, a group of friends had the idea to set up a Jane’s Walk to honor her ideas and what she bequeathed us. Jane's Walk was inaugurated on May 5th, 2007 in Toronto and are held in more than 200 cities around the world.

Jane's ten key ideas

  • 1

    Eyes on the street :Pedestrian traffic throughout the day, and the watchful eyes that come with it, enhance the safety of city streets.

  • 2

    Social capital : The everyday activities and interactions that occur in a neighborhood slowly build up a network of relationships between neighbors. The «social capital» provides a foundation for mutual trust, shared efforts, and resilience in time of trouble.

  • 3

    The generator of diversity: Four factors in city planning and design help make the city diverse, safe, social, convenient and economically vibrant:

    • Mixed uses : a mixture of all kind of residences, workplaces and shops bring people out on the street at all times of day.
    • Aged buildings : humdrum, rundown buildings provide cheap space for new businesses and other low- or no- profit enterprises.
    • Small blocks : a denser street network means more opportunities for retail and more chances for people to meet their neighbors.
    • Population density : simply put, you need lots of people in a small area to provide enough use for a city’s streets, parks and enterprises.

  • 4

    Form still follows function: Fashions and technologies come and go, but what always remains relevant are the countless ways that people use the city, how the city works as a whole, and whether or not our urban design and planning reflect and serve those functions.

  • 5

    Local economies: economic growth, whether local, national or global, relies on the ability of urban economies to provide amply and diversely for themselves, rather than relying on imports.

  • 6

    Innovation : all new work is added to fragments of older work, like the first dressmaker to take up bra-making to improve the fit of her dresses. The greater the diversity of existing work in a local economy, the more opportunities to add new work and recombine old work in new ways.

  • 7

    Make many little plans : The diversityof a good neighborhood can only be achieved when we allow many different people to pursue their own little plans.

  • 8

    Gradual money : Both diverse little plansand new kind of works require diverse little sources of money available on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, both public and private sources often only provide money floods and money droughts instead.

  • 9

    Cities as organized complexity : Cities function like ecosystems. Everything is connected to everything else in intricate, particular ways that cannot be captured well by statistics or formulas. Only close observation and reasoning from the bottom up will do.

  • 10

    Citizen Science : The people best equipped to understand urban complexity are «ordinary, interested citizens». Without the assumptions that often come with professional training, everyday users of the city can learn more freely from what they see and experience firsthand.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a strong plea for urban diversity and vitality, published in 1961. The book on urban planning is still well received from the general public and continues to be a matter of some controversy around visions sometimes opposed between users of the city and professionals. The Death and Life of Great American Cities introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.
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