Remembering and understanding Jane Jacobs, beyond left and right (Globe and Mail, Sept. 30, 2016)

A recent post about Jane Jacobs is entitled:

 Is Jane Jacobs blameworthy for gentrification?: Arguments for and against

My friend Mike James has let me know about the following Sept. 30, 2016 article from the Globe and Mail:

Remembering and understanding Jane Jacobs, beyond left and right

The opening paragraph reads:

Everyone has their own Jane Jacobs. The famous writer would have been 100 this year, and people around the world have been remembering the way her steely intelligence transformed their lives. The book that made her name, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, remains one of the 20th century’s most beloved and influential takes on urban life, a book that many credit with forever altering how they see the city. Then, for four decades after that, in five more books and a host of essays and speeches, many of which we have collected in our new book Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, she upended our understanding of not just cities, but economies, ethics and politics. In scrambling expectations, she became one of those rare public intellectuals who finds readers and acolytes everywhere, capturing imaginations at both ends of the political spectrum, inspiring community organizers and libertarians alike.

[End of excerpt]

Click here for previous posts about Jane Jacobs >


An Oct. 2, 2016 article is entitled: “The Blindness of Claims of Jane Jacobs’ Race-Blindness.”

The opening paragraphs read:

A recently published biography has contributed to the myth that Jane Jacobs was inattentive to issues of race. A book reviewer in the Literature Review of Canada wrote, “Her inattention to racism, whether in the form of American housing markets or in official policies like redlining, is well known—at least within the academy, and it was noticed before Death and Life was published.”

These confidently made assertions are wrong. Similarly, the source of the assertions, author Robert Kanigel’s claim that Jacobs believed that discrimination against Negroes was little different from those of other slum populations and “that was about it,” is simply incorrect and misleading. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote about segregation, discrimination, and racism, with special attention to African-Americans, on multiple occasions and in various ways. She called racism “our country’s most serious social problem” (p. 71). She spoke of Americans’ “tendencies toward master-race psychology” (p. 284). In fact, as early as 1945, in a short history of the United States written for foreign readers when she worked at the Office of War Information, she honestly observed, “The nation’s 13,000,000 Negro citizens do not yet have full economic equality and opportunity” (Becoming Jane Jacobs, p. 296).

[End of excerpt]

Click here for previous posts regarding racism >


6 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Canada’s “founding myths” and climate change

    It’s useful to look at issues that are still with us today long after the years starting in the 1960s when Jane Jacobs was active as an “urbanist.”

    A Sept. 23, 2016 Globe and Mail article by Naomi Klein comes to mind by way of example.

    An excerpt from the article, which is entitled: “Canada’s founding myths hold us back from addressing climate change,” reads:

    The early U.S. economy was brutally extractive too, of course – but in a different way from Canada’s. The Southern slave economy was based on the brutal extraction of forced human labour, used to clear and cultivate the land to feed the rapidly industrializing north.

    In Canada, cultivation and industrialization were secondary. First and foremost, this country was built on voraciously devouring wildness. Canada was an extractive company – the Hudson’s Bay Company – before it was a country. And that has shaped us in ways we have yet to begin to confront.

    Because such enormous fortunes have been built purely on the extraction of wild animals, intact forest and interred metals and fossil fuels, our economic elites have grown accustomed to seeing the natural world as their God-given larder.

    When someone or something – like climate science – comes along and says: Actually, there are limits, we have to take less from the Earth and keep more profit for the public good, it doesn’t feel like a difficult truth. It feels like an existential attack.

    The famed economic historian Harold Innis warned of all this almost a century ago. Canada’s extreme dependence on exporting raw natural resources, he argued, stunted Canada’s development at “the staples phase.” This reliance on raw resources made the country intensely vulnerable to monopolies, foreign interference, as well as outside economic shocks. It’s why “banana republic” is not considered a compliment.

    [End of excerpt]

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Offshoring (2014)

    A 2014 study entitled Offshoring by John Urry comes to mind as well.

    A blurb for the later book reads:

    The concealment of income, wealth and profits in tax havens has brought the topic of offshoring into public debate, but as John Urry shows in this important new book offshoring is a much more pervasive feature of contemporary societies. These often secretive activities offshore also involve relations of work, finance, pleasure, waste, energy and security. Powerful and pervasive offshore worlds have been generated, posing huge challenges both for governments and for citizens.

    This book documents the various patterns of offshoring – of the economy, sociability, politics and the environment. In each case, offshoring generates new patterns of power, reduces the responsibilities of the powerful ‘offshore class’, and limits the conditions for democratic governance. Offshore, out of sight, over the horizon are some of the troubling processes and metaphors by which much life has been rendered opaque and dependent upon secrets and lies. By analysing these patterns and processes, Urry sheds fresh light on the hidden worlds of offshoring and exposes the dark side of globalization.

    The book concludes by considering whether offshoring can be reversed – whether it is possible to bring about the systematic ‘reshoring’ of relations that would be good for democracy and for developing low-carbon futures. Urry portrays the coming century as being poised between even more extreme offshoring and various endeavours to bring back ‘home’ that which has currently escaped ‘over the horizon’.

    [End of text]

    Alberta tar-sands extraction

    The study notes (p. 109) that “The natural gas now used in Alberta tar-sands extraction would heat half the homes in Canada.”

    Offshoring of leisure

    Chapter 5 is entitled “Leisure Offshored.” The chapter notes (p. 81) that many offshored leisure sites feature “simulated environments more ‘real’ than the original from which they are copied.” The discussion brings to mind a previous posts regarding reality tourism and theme-park experiences:

    Displacing Desire (2006) and The Ethics of Sightseeing (2011)

    Cloverdale Mall and Sherway Gardens as theme park experiences: MCHS 2015 places to visit (Part 2)

    Chapter 5 opens with a historical overview of previous times when leisure activities were restricted largely to “inside the neighbourhood” settings. I’m aware of such a stage, dating until roughly the 1950s, in the community of Long Branch (Toronto) where I live. My interviews in recent years with old-time residents have often highlighted the forms of leisure that used to be based predominantly within the confines of a given neighbourhood, in the 1930s and ’40s.

    Starting in the 1960s, however, as John Urry notes with regard to Britain, leisure activities in Long Branch and elsewhere in Toronto especially among young people turned increasingly to an “outside the neighbourhood” focus centred on mass, popular culture, music, and entertainment. The arrival of television in the 1950s had a particular impact in this context. People began to spend less time catching up on local news by talking with each other outside their homes. They began spending more time indoors, watching the same television programs that many of their neighbours up and down the street were watching.

    Academic writing outsourced as journalism

    Having read more of Offshoring (2014), I have concluded that the study by John Urry has many of the characteristics of journalism. The study itself qualifies as a form of outsourcing – in this case academic work outsourced as a form of journalism. As journalism, the book would benefit, in at least one case, with a little fact checking. There have been quite a few news reports in recent years about the fact that military drone operators, who engage in remote control assassinations in other countries, do indeed at times experience PTSD symptoms associated with their line of work. Urry’s chapter on the outsourcing of war, however, claims that such drone operators have no psychological qualms about their daily work.

    That said, a sociological take on outsourcing, as a concept and phenomenon, is of value. There is much value in going beyond economics as the sole frame of reference for discussions related to outsourcing.

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Canada and the Third World (2016)

    An additional study that comes to mind is Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories (2016).

    A blurb reads:

    Canada and the Third World provides a much needed and long overdue introduction to Canada’s historical relationship with the Third World. The book critically explores this relationship by asking four central questions: How can we understand the historical roots of Canada’s relations with the countries of the Third World? How have Canadians, individuals and institutions alike, practised and imagined “development”? How can we integrate Canada into global histories of empire, decolonization, and development? And how should we understand the relationship between issues such as poverty, racism, gender equality, and community development in the First and Third World alike? The anthology begins with a general introduction followed by 9 essays. Each essay ends with discussions, questions and suggestions for further reading.

    [End of text]

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An Oct. 9, 2016 New York Times book review, which I read in the print version of the newspaper, refers to:

    Eyes of the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs (2016)

    Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs (2016)

    The New York Times review of the two books was of passing interest, for me, but did not add a great deal of value – did not add a great deal of value to me – with regard to my understanding of what Jane Jacobs was about.

    Which brings to mind a thought that has often occurred to me regarding Jane’s Walks, which I’ve been involved with for many years: I do not know what a Jane’s Walk is; that’s what I like about a Jane’s Walk.

    That said, what is valuable about the Oct. 9, 2016 New York Times review is that it lists the two, above-noted books. That is valuable information.

  5. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    The Oct. 9, 2016 New York Times book review about Jane Jacobs functions as an extended blurb. We can say that it’s on a continuum that extends from a tagline or slogan onward to a blurb and onward to a longread article and a full-length book.

    Marshall McLuhan has remarked that the future of the book is the blurb.

    The best blurbs are based on facts and evidence, framed in a way that is balanced. Sometimes this standard is met, sometimes not.

  6. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Also of relevance is a book I learned about from a New York Times article, namely Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (2017).


    How American race law provided a blueprint for Nazi Germany

    Nazism triumphed in Germany during the high era of Jim Crow laws in the United States. Did the American regime of racial oppression in any way inspire the Nazis? The unsettling answer is yes. In Hitler’s American Model, James Whitman presents a detailed investigation of the American impact on the notorious Nuremberg Laws, the centerpiece anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazi regime. Contrary to those who have insisted that there was no meaningful connection between American and German racial repression, Whitman demonstrates that the Nazis took a real, sustained, significant, and revealing interest in American race policies.

    As Whitman shows, the Nuremberg Laws were crafted in an atmosphere of considerable attention to the precedents American race laws had to offer. German praise for American practices, already found in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, was continuous throughout the early 1930s, and the most radical Nazi lawyers were eager advocates of the use of American models. But while Jim Crow segregation was one aspect of American law that appealed to Nazi radicals, it was not the most consequential one. Rather, both American citizenship and antimiscegenation laws proved directly relevant to the two principal Nuremberg Laws–the Citizenship Law and the Blood Law. Whitman looks at the ultimate, ugly irony that when Nazis rejected American practices, it was sometimes not because they found them too enlightened, but too harsh.

    Indelibly linking American race laws to the shaping of Nazi policies in Germany, Hitler’s American Model upends understandings of America’s influence on racist practices in the wider world.


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