From the Writers & Company Archives: Jane Jacobs


Author Jane Jacobs in Toronto on May 12, 2004 (CP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld)

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This summer, the Writers & Company weekly podcast will feature some of the best shows from the show's archives. We hope you'll enjoy this opportunity to hear these programs that haven't been available as a podcast before.

Every week in July and August, CBC Books will bring you the Writers & Company podcast, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.

This week's Writers & Company podcast features Eleanor's conversation with Jane Jacobs. The inspiring Canadian, variously known as "the guru of cities" and "part analyst, part activist, part prophet," passed away in April 2006, just shy of her 90th birthday.

This interview originally aired on August 6, 2002.

You can listen to Writers & Company on CBC Radio One every Sunday at 3 p.m. ET and AT; 3:30 p.m. NT; 5 p.m. PT, MT and CT.

In the more than 50 years since the publication of her groundbreaking book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs's influence was extraordinary. Her work had an impact on architects, community workers and planners, and Nobel Prize-winning economists and ecologists. As critic Andrew Hacker put it in the New York Review of Books, "Jacobs`s influence confirms that books matter. It isn't easy to cite another writer who has had a comparable impact in our time."


Jane Jacobs was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1916. Her father was a family physician and her mother a schoolteacher and nurse. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. She also realized early on that school wasn't a place of intellectual interest for her. After high school, she worked for the local paper and attended business school to pick up stenography skills so she could earn a living. At 18, she moved to New York City and held a variety of jobs, both clerical and as an editor and writer. It was while she was working for Architectural Forum that she began the series of articles that became The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

In the late 1960s, Jane Jacobs helped save her neighbourhood, New York`s Greenwich Village, from destruction. In 1968, she moved to Toronto with her husband and their two draft-age sons and a daughter. Almost immediately, she was engaged in stopping the planned Spadina Expressway from cutting through her new neighbourhood in Toronto's Annex.

Until her death in 2006, Jacobs continued to live in that large comfortable house in Toronto`s Annex. She spoke with Eleanor Wachtel about her life, her work and her vast influence in the spring of 2002. You can listen to their conversation in the audio player above.

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