The NY Times summarizes a symposium on Jane Jacobs, activist and writer, whose The Death and Life of Great American Cities is considered by many to be a masterpiece (sic).
Those who are not very familiar with her thought and impact might find Julia Vitullo-Martin’s characterization helpful:
In practice, she disapproved equally of self-isolating large development, like public housing for low-income people, and luxurious towers for high-income people,” she said, adding later, “She admired a certain kind of active integration, of people of different races, incomes, educational levels. She admired the presence of work in neighborhoods. She had a romantic attachment to manufacturing work and certain small enterprises — retail, commercial — on the street. She liked everything mixed up together.”
A friend of hers, Roberta Brandes Gratz, is quoted as remarking
Jane’s ideas are not frozen in time. She never expected change not to occur. The process of change – the process of change – is what concerned her most, how it was managed and how intimately involved in shaping that change were the citizens affected by that change. Furthermore her ideas were never static. She loathed ideology and bristled at any suggestion that her ideas added up to a theory.
Most people will find her legacy mixed, since her thought has been used by different sides of the political spectrum. Her convervative stance on some public spending, of which I have just become aware, hardly sounds something I could support. What captivated me, however, was the characterization by historian Christopher Klemek, who is curating an exhibit on her. The use of quotation marks and personal pronouns seems garbled a bit, but I’ll give it to you as it is in the Times:
Jacobs “was sort of strange looking,” having come into prominence well into her middle age. “She’s a late bloomer in some ways,” she said. “She had a very strange voice. It was almost a whiny voice.” But she was also “hard as nails,” and “willing to go head to head in the old trenches of New York City politics,” and “managed to play this tension between insider and outsider to quite powerful effect.”
The tension between insider and outsider is one many of us could also play to powerful effect.