This article in Reason showcases the ork done by Jane Jacobs to shatter the paradigum of “20th Century Urban Planning Groupthink.” If you haven’t heard of this heroin of liberty, you might want to read the book Vital Little Plans.
Jane Jacobs was fatal to conventional wisdom. In her books, articles, and activism, she destroyed the 20th century urban planning groupthink and laid out a radically different way of thinking about cities and society—one that rejected the prescriptive and centralized approach that dominated the planning profession, and one that instead highlighted how decentralized, market-driven decisions lay the foundation for vibrant and sustainable cities……
….That’s just one of the themes found in Vital Little Plans, a rich, provocative, and insightful collection of 38 of Jacobs’ papers, speeches, and interviews. Jacobs was not a particularly prolific author; she published just a handful of books over a career that spanned more than half a century. With this anthology, published a decade after her death, editors Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring—a historian and an urban designer, respectively—fill in much more of the picture.
What shines through in Jacobs’ earliest writings here (including a poem published in the New York Herald Tribune in 1935) is her uncanny ability for inductive empirical analysis—for using data to formulate more general ideas about cities and how they worked. Rather than focusing on regional or macroeconomic abstractions, her observations literally remain at the street level, whether observing the origins and patterns of manhole covers (in Cue magazine) or the greenhouses and shops of New York’s wholesale flower district at 28th Street and Sixth Avenue (in Vogue).
In “Diamonds in the Tough” (Vogue, 1936), Jacobs describes the Bowery as a “squalid section” of New York where 70 percent of the world’s unredeemed jewelry is pawned, bought, and sold. She makes it clear that this diamond center emerged spontaneously through the voluntary interactions of buyers and sellers, not because some agency designated the block as a precious stone district. “No one seems to know why this location was chosen or why the district continues here,” she writes. Such observations about how the city works would become essential for Death and Life of Great American Cities.
The death and life of a great American urbanist