She will be sorely missed.
If any of our alleged “cultural critics” could be said to have any value at all, then Jane Jacobs would surely exemplify the best of that small subset. I don’t have a single unkind thing to say about her. The woman had a marvelous way of looking at things, a slightly skewed approach to life that generated truly useful insights. I would happily read anything she wrote.
Here’s an introduction to her, courtesy of 2 Blowhards. Contrary to the author’s modest protestations, I found it neither half-assed nor scattershot. For what it is, it’s just right…

When the post-war years came along, America went into pave-the-country-over hyperdrive. Sorry to say this about the Greatest Generation — all due honor paid to them, of course — but: What in God’s name were they thinking of?…
I’m not entirely sure of my judgment in the matter, but I suspect that urban renewal may have been a self-inflicted American disaster on a par with the Vietnam War…
These sad and horrifying developments brought out the best in Jane Jacobs. While the experts (and their propagandists) grew ever more drunk on their do-gooding, egomanical, sci-fi visions, Jacobs went out and looked at what was actually happening.

I hate grandiose theorists. I truly do. Humble empiricists are far more useful, and much easier to be around as well. Back to the blowhards…

If any one thing characterizes Jacobs’ work — and I’m not sure any one thing does, but I’m gonna try anyway — it’s her aversion to theory and dogmatism. Take it case-by-case; be skeptical of general rules. Government usually screws things up and makes life more of a burden then it needs to be, but some of what it does seems to help.
Her perpetual-amateur stance and her anything-but-systematic, anti-deterministic approach has opened her to criticism. Some portray her as naive, and god knows that her books about economics especially are very quirky. But I’m a sunny sort of guy, and I love her work. Why not appreciate her for her very real contributions?

Amen, brother. Amen.
My own introduction to Jane Jacobs’ work came via Systems of Survival, so I was at first quite unaware of her contribution to urban design “theory” and the battle over urban renewal.
It was a modest and pleasant little book, thought-provoking, chock full of odd little facts and pleasing anecdotes. Did you know that Kalahari bushmen had a homicide rate comparable to inner city Detroit’s? I didn’t know that. Eskimos too, by god. You get into a hot quarrel with a hunting buddy and then, oops, you spear him. Simple, no? The anthropologists were all very disappointed. Appalled even. Farewell naive preconceptions!
Amusingly, the blowhards link to an interview with her from back in 2000, conducted by none other than James Howard Kunstler. Try spotting the incipient madness.

JHK: Well the million flowers are now blooming mostly in China. I don?t know about you?every product I pick up is made in China. I?m not against the Chinese.

Except when their commerce raiders attack our western coast.

But it makes you wonder how long we go on having an advanced civilization without making anything anymore. Can we?
JJ: I don?t think so.
JHK: It seems to me that what we are doing is we are buying a lot of stuff from other people by basically running up tremendous unprecedented amounts of debt. That can only go on so long.
JJ: But you know we aren?t complete dolts in all of this. For example, we don?t manufacture our own computers. They are made mostly in Taiwan but they aren?t designed in Taiwan.
JHK: We hand them a set of blueprints and they make the stuff for them.
JJ: There are still an awful lot of intelligent, clever constructive Americans and they are still doing clever constructive things. Is it more necessary to be able to design computers or is more necessary to be able to manufacture computers. I think that it is necessary to do both. I think it is fatal to specialize. And all kinds of things show us that and that the more diverse we are in what we can do the better. But I don?t think that you can dispose of the constructive and inventive things that America is doing?and say oh we aren?t doing anything anymore and we are living off of what the poor Chinese do. It is more complicated than that. There is the example of Detroit which you noticed yourself was once a very prosperous and diverse city. And look what happened when it just specialized on automobiles. Look at Manchester when it specialized in those dark satanic mills, when it specialized in textiles. It was supposed to be the city of the future.
JHK: We have an awful lot of places in America that don?t specialize in anything anymore and don?t produce anything in particular anymore.
JJ: Well that?s better than specializing.
JHK: I am thinking about the region where I live which is a kind of a mini rust-belt of upstate New York?one town after another where the economy has completely vanished. There is no more Utica, New York, really. There is no more Amsterdam, New York, or Glen?s Falls or Hudson Falls. They are gone. And I am wondering, is the rest of America going to be like that.
JJ: Never underestimate the power of a city to regenerate.
JHK: Well that?s fair enough.
JJ: And things everywhere are not as bad as you are picturing.
JHK: Oh, I am Mr. Gloom and Doom..
JJ: For instance Portland?lots of constructive things are happening in Portland.
JHK: I?d say Portland is in pretty good shape compared to lots of other American cities?but it ain?t France.
JJ: No, it ain?t. But there are lots of things about America that are better in their own way than France.

Today is a sad day.