Jane Jacobs, one of the 20th century’s most influential urban theorists, passed away in Toronto in April. Jacobs was a student at GS during the 1940s, taking classes in geology, zoology, law, political science, and economics. Her best-known book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, presented a fundamental challenge to contemporary urban planning models. Rather than the urban renewal policies of Le Corbusier and Robert Moses, Jacobs advocated density and diversity—with regard to population, buildings, and economics—and emphasized the importance of the individual as part of an interdependent network.
In 1964 Jacobs and other activists successfully resisted a proposal, led by Moses, the New York City Parks Commissioner, to build an expressway through Lower Manhattan. Jacobs also helped to establish the idea that cities, rather than governments, drive economies, as well as the value of “eyes on the street”—community interaction and involvement—in promoting safety. In 1969 Jacobs and her family moved to Toronto, protesting the Vietnam War; she continued to explore cities, economics, politics and culture in several books and remained a fierce activist. Her ideas, controversial five decades ago, continue to inspire.