Skip to content
CityLab
Economy

Reading Jane Jacobs Anew

Her work is cousin to the radical visions of the era, but she was ultimately working to reinvent, not simply destroy conventional wisdom.
Jane Jacobs speaking at an anti-urban renewal rally in 1966, protesting the construction of a new library for New York University.
Jane Jacobs speaking at an anti-urban renewal rally in 1966, protesting the construction of a new library for New York University.Randhom House

An abridged and adapted version of the introduction to Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, published by Random House, October 11, 2016.

Fans of Jane Jacobs cherish a striking snapshot of the famed writer and urbanist, sitting in jail, awaiting booking. She is side by side with the writer Susan Sontag, who looks characteristically defiant. Jacobs appears calmer, and a bit world weary, as if she were barely enduring the regular idiocy of bureaucratic authority. They ended up there, along with more than 250 other demonstrators, after an antiwar protest at New York’s Whitehall draft induction center in December of 1967. The picture puts Jacobs at the heart of her times—it’s a snapshot from our collective idea of “the Sixties.” It’s all the more poignant when we know what is on the horizon: the Vietnam War would push her family to flee the United States for Canada a year later.