Jane Jacobs – a 100 years of progressive urban thought

Posted by on 4. May 2016 in Blog / Journal, News & Events | Comments Off on Jane Jacobs – a 100 years of progressive urban thought

Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) an American born journalist and activist, best known for her work on improving the quality of life in urban communities, was born on this day 100 years ago. Jacobs saw cities as ecosystems that had their own structure and dynamic that would change over time according to how they were used. She promoted city planning with higher population density (and criticized car-centric culture of suburban sprawl), advocated for support of local economies, and for mixed use of smaller, more nimble city blocks. In her influential and most cited book, The Death and Life of American Cities, Jacobs argued that urban development and renewal did not respect the rights and needs of most city inhabitants.


Sculpture in front of Affinity Credit Union Building in Saskatoon

Example of an urban renewal – renovated and re-purposed Affinity Credit Union office building in City Park neighbourhood, Saskatoon


Jacobs carried her fight for community-based urban planning to Canada in mid 1960s. After moving to Toronto in 1968, she published six more books about city planning, economics, ethics governance and culture. Jacobs is credited, together with sociologist and historian Lewis Mumford, with inspiring the New Urbanist movement.

I can personally relate to her ideas how people can build a solid foundation for their communities (see Jane Jacobs – Ten Big Ideas) especially by:

Strengthening social capital – everyday activities and interactions among people that occur in neighbourhoods slowly build up a network of intertwined links between neighbours. This eventually provides a foundation for mutual trust, cooperation and resilience to stress in difficult times,

Promoting citizen science – the people best equipped to understand the complexity of urban life (and its connection with the natural elements within city limits) are “ordinary, interested citizens”. With open eyes, and not limited by assumptions imposed by professional training and code of practice, city residents can more freely learn from what they see and encounter in their daily lives.


Branimir leading a 2015 Jane's Walk in downtown Saskatoon

From the 2015 Jane’s Walk along Meewasin Trail in downtown Saskatoon. Photo by Steve Hiscock


A strong believer that local residents should have input on how their neighbourhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to become familiar with the places they live in. I am proud to have participated in last three Jane’s Walks, citizen-led walking tours towards community-based city building inspired by the ideas and work of Ms. Jacobs. This year I will lead a nature photo walk to a beautiful prairie landscape on the northeast edge of Saskatoon (more info after the link). Hope you will be able to join us and continue Jane Jacobs’ legacy.