Accidental protagonist
Down To Earth|July 16, 2021
JANE JACOBS’ FIRST CITY IS A BEAUTIFUL DESCRIPTION OF THE EVOLUTION AND SURVIVAL OF THE SMALL INDUSTRIAL TOWN OF SCRANTON, MAKING THE CITY THE REAL PROTAGONIST IN THIS OTHERWISE HAGIOGRAPHIC ACCOUNT OF JANE JACOBS’ LIFE
AVIKAL SOMVANSHI

CITIES HAVE the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” wrote Jane Jacobs in her iconic book Death and Life of Great American Cities. Some 60 years later, the book and her ideas are still cherished, especially by architecture students and urban planners across the globe, though Jacobs had no formal training as a planner. Here in New Delhi the resistance offered by urban planners and architects to the Central government’s Central Vista Redevelopment seem to have roots in Jane Jacobs’ activism against mega-development projects that were changing the urbanscape of New York City in the 1960s.

As seen in the flurry of works on influential thinkers of the 20th century, writers today seem to be taking a keener interest in the person than their ideas. This can be called a modern way of legend-making. Author Glenna Lang’s latest book, Jane Jacobs’s First City: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a similar offering.

It tries to explore, dissect and present Jacobs’ early life (initial 18 years, to be precise) in the small industrial town of Scranton, which is also the hometown of the current US President Joe Biden. It actively tries to ascribe Jacobs’ views on urban planning and economy— first articulated by her in The Death and Life of Great American Cities 25 years after she had moved out of Scranton, and which continued to evolve till her death in 2004—to her childhood.

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