Who is Jane Jacobs?

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Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to understanding, organizing, designing, and building cities. She had no formal training as a planner, and yet her 1961 best-seller, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her later books introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve, and succeed or fail. Jane's ideas revolutionized how we regard urban space, urban life, and urban infrastructure, but they are often regarded as common sense by today's architects, planners, politicians, and activists.

Jacobs saw cities as ecosystems with their own dynamics that would evolve over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design, and self-organization. She promoted higher density, short blocks, local economies, and mixed uses. Jacobs helped derail the car-centred approach to urban planning in both New York City and Toronto, invigorating neighbourhood activism by helping stop the expansion of expressways and roads. She lived in Greenwich Village for decades, moving to Toronto in 1968 where she continued her work and writing on urbanism, economies, and social issues until her death in April 2006.

A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input about how their neighbourhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places they spend their time and to understand how they work and how they support the people that live in them.

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