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.

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

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Don’t stop me now

In June 2014 I began a photo project. I had been seeing a lot of stickers that used the “stop” on stop signs as part of their message. I started collecting photos of them, only duplicating shots when I saw the same message in another city. “Stop Harper” and “Stop the Tar Sands” are common in Toronto and Vancouver, and I’m sure in other cities across Canada and perhaps the United States.

Most interesting are the stickers that are not strictly “activist” (the homage to M.C. Hammer, for example), and the stickers of stop signs that then rather redundantly appear on stop signs.

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“Never protest the same way twice.”

The End of Protest went on sale on Tuesday, and Micah White has had a whirlwind week of media and events. You can check out his Twitter feed for links to interviews and reviews. On Wednesday we took Micah out for dinner, to celebrate his book and his 34th birthday.

Last night’s event at the Toronto Reference Library capped off his time here. The discussion with Susan G. Cole of NOW magazine was sold out, with 500+ ticketholders plus a number of rush seats. Micah was electric and eloquent when he explained why we urgently need a revolution of how we practice activism.

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Toronto Reference Library. Credit: Milan Ilnyckyj.

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“We’ve hit a troubling climate change milestone”

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A view of the Kronebreen Glacier in northern Norway. Credit: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images/File 2015

In May campaigners around the world will converge on the world’s biggest carbon deposits: the coal mines of Australia, the tarsands of Canada, the gasfields of Russia. And they will engage in peaceful civil disobedience, an effort to simply say: no. The only safe place for this carbon is deep beneath the soil, where’s it been for eons.

This is, in one sense, stupid. It’s ridiculous that at this late date, as the temperature climbs so perilously, we still have to take such steps. Why do Bostonians have to be arrested to stop the Spectra pipeline? Anyone with a thermometer can see that we desperately need to be building solar and windpower instead.

In a much deeper sense, however, the resistance is valiant, even beautiful. Think of those protesters as the planet’s antibodies, its immune system finally kicking in. Our one earth is running a fever the likes of which no human has ever seen. The time to fight it is right now.

Bill McKibben

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