Celebrating Jane Jacobs

I would like it to be understood, and increasingly understood as time passes, that all our human economic achievements have been done by ordinary people, not by exceptionally educated people, or by elites, or by supernatural forces, for heaven’s sake. Yet without understanding this, people are all too willing to fall for the idea that they can’t do this, they themselves, or anybody they know, because they’re too ordinary.

This week, in Toronto and around the world, individuals and organizations are celebrating the legacy of Jane Jacobs. The writer, activist, urban theorist, and under-acknowledged economist encouraged us to “get out and walk,” to experience the city around us. Jane’s Walk, which was started ten years ago as a way to carry Jane’s ideas forward, will be culminating in three days of city exploration this weekend.

Jane at Home 450 px
Jane Jacobs in her New York City backyard in the 1960s, before she and her family moved to Toronto. Credit: Jim Jacobs.

May 4th would have been Jane’s 100th birthday, and events are being planned in her honour under the umbrella #Jane100 (Canada) and #JJ100 (USA). These events will run from May 4th, 2016 to May 4th, 2017. In Canada, we’re hoping for “100 days of Jane”; i.e., 100 events in her honour over that year. I sit on the #Jane100 steering committee.

One of the #Jane100 events is The Reading Line book ride on May 28th along Bathurst Street. On Monday NOW magazine recognized The Reading Line as one of the best #Jane100 events in Toronto. Our ride, which will pass through Jane’s Annex neighbourhood, pays tribute to Jane as well as another influential writer and activist, June Callwood.

Today I visited the Jane at Home exhibit at the Urbanspace Gallery with my Reading Line co-founder, Janet Joy Wilson. This exhibit, curated by Jane’s friends and her son Jim Jacobs, displays objects from Jane’s home on Albany Avenue: chairs, books, photos, her desk, her typewriter, and her iconic eyeglasses. We chatted with Jim about the tour for Jane’s last book, Dark Age Ahead; the subject and object in photography; and the importance of buying physical books.

Jim has been an invaluable support in the creation of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, which will be published this October (Random House/Random House Canada). Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, by Robert Kanigel, will also be published this fall (Knopf).

Tomorrow Janet Joy and I are presenting The Reading Line to our colleagues at Penguin Random House Canada. On Wednesday (Jane’s birthday) I am heading to City Hall to hear the Mayor’s Proclamation that May 4th be Jane Jacobs’ Idea Day in the City of Toronto…apparently this is the third or fourth time this declaration has been made, so perhaps this time it will stick. I’m planning to be among the hundreds of cyclists packing Council Chambers for the long-awaited vote on bike lanes on Bloor. Because really, could there be a better birthday present for Jane Jacobs?


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