Metro Morning

Jane Jacobs: 100th birthday celebrated by Google Doodle

Jane Jacobs, an influential activist and writer on urban affairs, would have turned 100 today. Two Metro Morning guests recall her legacy on a day the Google Doodle celebrates her work.

'She helped Torontonians understand the complexity of the city and how special it is'

Jane Jacobs, who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, would have turned 100 today (Google)

Urban planning legend and former Toronto resident Jane Jacobs would have turned 100 today. Her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, remains one of the most influential works on urban planning.

Jacobs, who died in 2006, made her name in the U.S. but lived in Toronto in the late 1960s.

Through her writing and activism, she changed the way many of us think about the places we live.

Google is celebrating Jacobs with a Google Doodle that appears on its home page today.

Today CBC's Metro Morning spoke with Paul Bedford, a former chief planner for Toronto and a friend of Jacobs.

He fondly recalled how the fiercely independent Jacobs was no fan of people in official positions, whether it be planners or academics.

"She told me you're going to be the chief planner, not the chief bureaucrat, and there's a big difference." Bedford told host Matt Galloway.

"She gave me the courage to frankly confront the bureaucracy and say what I thought and put my ideas forward and let the council decide. I think that was a very powerful lesson."

A champion of local ideas

Bedford also said Jacobs was a champion of "locally driven ideas" instead of top-down planning driven by city hall. He spoke of her fight against Toronto's proposed Spadina Expressway.

"She helped Torontonians understand the complexity of the city and how special it is," said Bedford. "She loved this city very much and fought very hard for it."

Zahra Ebrahim, the chair of Jane's Walk and other initiatives, said Jacobs helped Toronto residents become more interested in shaping their city.

"This wave of city builders, I think, is a huge credit to the spirit she left in the city. The community organizing spirit is really what she left behind."

Activist, author, economist, philosopher

Jacobs, born May 4, 1916, in Scranton, Pa., was an author, activist, economist and self-taught philosopher. 

She graduated from high school, took a few college courses, but never earned a formal university education. Jacobs worked for a year as a reporter, before moving to New York City.

In 1944, Jacobs got married to Robert Hyde Jacobs, an architect who specialized in hospital design. They had three children.

While living in Manhattan, Jacobs defeated a proposal by city planner Robert Moses to construct a highway through the tight-knit, bohemian neighbourhood of Greenwich Village. 

In opposition to the Vietnam War, Jacobs and her family immigrated to Toronto in 1968. 

Once settled, Jacobs helped to block the construction of the proposed Spadina Expressway. The expressway would have cut through Toronto's Chinatown, Annex and Forest Hill neighbourhoods in the heart of the city.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, during a celebration of her work in Toronto in 1997, Jacobs once proposed the idea that Toronto separate from the rest of Ontario. The idea arose from her belief that thriving cities should have more political power.

Jacobs died at the age of 89 on April 25, 2006.


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