Jane Jacobs, whose groundbreaking 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, basically changed my life by making me see the wisdom--and fertility--in living in densely populated, densely cultured urban areas for the rest of my life (Manhattan, Seoul, Providence sound OK?).
I love that she quietly but brilliantly articulated her views, that she had the guts to take on the eminent Robert Moses for his practically religious attachment to the automobile. Or that she didn't back down when the avuncular Lewis Mumford, who first supported her and wrote her nice (what she termed "hypocritical") letters, and then later slammed her when she openly criticized his anti-city philosophy. Even worse, as was done to another quiet empiricist, Rachel Carson, Mumford (in the New Yorker, no less) went for the "what can a little woman possibly know?" fatuously dismissing her book as "Mother Jacobs...homemade poultice for the cure of cancer" (in an interview with Metropolis Magazine in 1998, Jacobs recalled, "I laughed at a lot of it. .. I didn't go into this to win popularity or admiration from celebrities."
I love that she was so pissed her taxes were supporting the war in Vietnam that she moved out of the lovely neighborhood she had fought and sacrificed so much to save, to move to Canada and become a Canadian citizen. Could I do that, to uphold my principles? I don't know.
In her memory, let's take a minute to think about her four prescriptions for urban diversity, basically a random mashing together of people so that you can't hide--and if you can't hide and are forced to interact with people who are different from you...well, it's a lot easier to hate (and bomb) from afar:
- A street or district must serve several primary functions.
- Blocks must be short.
- Buildings must vary in age, condition and use.
- Population must be dense.
Read her obit in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/26/books/26jacobs.html?_r=1&oref=slogin