Jane Jacobs, 89

by Russ Roberts on April 26, 2006

in Complexity & Emergence

Jane Jacobs has passed away. From the Washington Post obit:

She attacked the arrogance of city planners for making decisions without consulting those affected.

planner’s greatest shortcoming, I think, is lack of intellectual
curiosity about how cities work," she told the New York Times in 1969.
"They are taught to see the intricacy of cities as mere disorder. Since
most of them believe what they have been taught, they do not inquire
about the processes that lie behind the intricacy. I doubt that
knowledgeable city planning will come out of the present profession. It
is more likely to arise as an offshoot of economics."

I don’t think she made the right forecast in that last sentence. I suspect economists have just as much fear of "mere disorder" and not enough of us trust for order to emerge.

When "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was published,
the director of the American Society of Planning Officials urged
members to "batten down the hatches." The usually urbane urban-planning
expert Lewis Mumford, insulted by his portrayal in the book, wrote a
critique of Mrs. Jacobs printed in the New Yorker magazine under the
heading "Mother Jacobs’ Home Remedies for Urban Cancer."

considered her a visionary. John Chamberlain, writing in the Wall
Street Journal, dubbed the book "a lucid and thoroughly devastating
attack on the shibboleths of the reigning school of modern city
planning." Decades later, New York Times architecture critic Paul
Goldberger wrote that the book "was to urban planning what Rachel
Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ was to the environmental movement, and it is
arguably the most important book written about cities in the 20th

She also wrote a book on the Hayekian nature of economies and cities, The Nature of Economies, written as a dialogue. Friends of this web page might enjoy it.


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