Vital Little Plans – why the ideas of Jane Jacobs are still vital

1960s: Days of Rage

Jane Jacobs, third from right, with architect Philip Johnson, protests against the demolition of Penn Station in New York, 1963.

“The need for Jane Jacobs and her clear-eyed human-scale urbanism is as strong as ever. Her masterpiece The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) described in brilliant detail the intricate ecology of how a city works (New York) or does not work (Detroit). Though Jacobs never wrote fiction, the book was more like a novelistic rendering of lived street life than a scholarly text. She was, as she once described herself, a ‘student of cities’, more interested in the effects of buildings than their design. Vital Little Plans collects for the first time Jacobs’s interviews, speeches, talks and short pieces of journalism – and there is much in this lucid and persuasive anthology that resonates today. In her essay ‘Downtown Is for People’, from 1958, she criticises…

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