Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 classic work, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” changed the way people think about communities and urban planning, died Tuesday at the age of 89, media accounts said.
The legendary urbanist, writer and activist, a longtime Toronto resident, died in her sleep Tuesday at a Toronto hospital, Random House publicist Sally Marvin told Associated Press.
Jacobs’ son, James, was with her at the time, reports said. The author, who would have turned 90 on May 4, had been in poor health, according to reports.
The publication of “The Death and Life,” Jacobs’ best-known book, “triggered a profound shift in the way we look at cities,” Business Week said in 2004. The book was dubbed “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning,” by the New York Times.
Jacobs argued for higher density, for more people on the street and yet for a scale and a neighborhood identity that would give control to the residents, keeping our cities safer and more livable.
She challenged assumptions she believed damaged modern cities, such as that neighborhoods should be isolated from each other, that an empty street was safer than a crowded street, that the car represented progress over the pedestrian, reports said.
In the 1960s, she was arrested for protesting the United States war in Vietnam, reports said. In the early 1960s, she helped defeat a plan by New York City park commissioner Robert Moses to build an expressway through Washington Square, accounts said.
“Jacobs, never formally educated or professionally trained in urban planning, came to be the field’s most famous critic and commentator, through her writings and grassroots activism,” Planetizen, an urban planning and development network, said in a statement Tuesday.
The activist and author continued writing almost until the end of her life. Her other writings include “The Economy of Cities,” written in 1969, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations,” written in 1984, “The Nature of Economies,” composed in 2000, and “Dark Age Ahead,” composed in 2004.
Her ideas and activism also continued to flourish, inspiring events including a five-day symposium in Toronto, Canada, in 1997, dubbed “Jane Jacobs: Ideas that Matter.”
“Great cities are not like towns, only larger. They are not like suburbs, only denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of them is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers,” Jacobs said in “The Death and Life.”
“It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things do work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give. If so, there is little hope for our cities or probably for much else in our society. But I do not think this is so,” Jacobs wrote.