Well, it was inevitable. First came the announcement of Jane Jacobs’ death, then the praise, and now, of course, the criticism.

First out of the gate? Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times’ architecture critic (who, I might add, has been accused of dancing on the very-fresh graves of the dearly departed, before).

Time passes. Jane Jacobs, the great lover of cities who stared down Robert Moses’ bulldozers and saved many of New York’s most precious neighborhoods, died last week at 89. It is a loss for those who value urban life. But her death may also give us permission to move on, to let go of the obsessive belief that Ms. Jacobs held the answer to every evil that faces the contemporary city.

But the problems of the 20th-century city were vast and complicated. Ms. Jacobs had few answers for suburban sprawl or the nation’s dependence on cars, which remains critical to the development of American cities. She could not see that the same freeway that isolated her beloved, working-class North End from downtown Boston also protected it from gentrification. And she never understood cities like Los Angeles, whose beauty stems from the heroic scale of its freeways and its strange interweaving of man-made and natural environments.

Perhaps her legacy has been most damaged by those who continue to treat “Death and Life” as sacred text rather than as what it was: a heroic cri de coeur. Of those, the New Urbanists are the most guilty; in many cases, they reduced her vision of corner shops and busy streets to a superficial town formula that creates the illusion of urban diversity, but masks a stifling uniformity at its core.

Exactly. That’s the trouble with “icons”. We often reduce what they are saying into the simplest terms, when the truth is much more complex. Especially when it comes to urban planning and design.

Source: Outgrowing Jane Jacobs and Her New York – By Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times

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Updated: January 2018

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