Let a fuller picture of Jane Jacobs emerge
I WAS glad to see Anthony Flint’s op-ed recognizing Jane Jacobs on the 50th anniversary of her classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities’’ (“An urban legacy in need of renewal,’’ Nov. 12). I would, however, like to correct his misperceptions, first and foremost his characterization of Jacobs as a “housewife.’’
When Jacobs’s book appeared in 1961, she had worked for 20 years as a professional full-time journalist, the last nine at Architectural Forum magazine where she reported on urban issues and planning. In 1956 William H. Whyte heard her speak at Harvard’s first Urban Design Conference and asked her to write an article for Fortune. The resulting “Downtown Is for People’’ caught the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which, without prompting, offered her enough support to devote all her time to expanding her ideas into a book, a greater honor than having “managed to get a grant,’’ as Flint puts it.
As a writer who believed her work took precedence, Jacobs shied away from battles unless she felt compelled to join in. When she did, she fought all the institutions, politicians, and businessmen — not simply Robert Moses — who followed the prevailing wisdom that so-called blighted urban neighborhoods, such as Boston’s West End, were worthless and should be demolished and rebuilt. Jacobs wasn’t against planning in general, just bad planning.
The writer is the author of “Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities.’ ’’