Jane Jacobs cycles past the site of West Village Houses, a low-rise, mixed-income housing development that she championed, in 1962. Getty Images.
Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) is universally recognized as one of the key figures in American urbanism. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), her first major book, is considered one of the most important books on cities. As an activist, she is known for her key leadership roles in preventing the bisection of Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park by an extension of Fifth Avenue (1958); the condemnation and likely demolition of her West Village neighborhood and home (1961); and the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway (1962-68), which would have caused irreparable damage to Manhattan. After Death and Life, Jacobs wrote The Economy of Cities (1969), The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (1980), Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life (1984), Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992), The Nature of Economies (2000), and Dark Age Ahead (2004). Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968, where she helped to stop construction of the Spadina Expressway (1971). She became a Canadian citizen in 1974.
The answer to the question, "Who was Jane Jacobs?" has changed over time, but most dramatically starting soon after her death, when a new understanding of her early career and intellectual history began to emerge. Extending the author's original research further, Becoming Jane Jacobs provides a new foundation for understanding Jacobs's intertwined activities as a writer and activist, Death and Life, and her later books.