Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

Janejacobs_1I have just learned the sad news that Jane Jacobs has passed away.  The New York Times obiturary here.  Ms. Jacobs is best known to propertyprof readers for her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  The book, which I first read in a college urban history class, has a humane focus and an important question: how can we make cities more liveable.  She wrote it by looking closely at urban life and thinking about how human decisions (as simple as closing a street to traffic) have many consequences, not all of the good, for life in cities.  She was a perceptive, thoughtful, and compassionate person.

Ms. Jacobs' most recent book, Dark Age Ahead, pubished in 2004, predicts that we are entering a period of retrenchment in culture and science.  I hope she is wrong, but after reading her book I fear she may be right.  She spent much of her life in Toronto. 

I had the honor of clerking for her brother, John D. Butzner, on the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, in 1990 and 1991.  He, too, died earlier this year.  I think there's some good work to be done on Butzner's jurisprudence (he was a Great Society liberal, though had an uncommon belief in the simple elegance of common law reasoning and in judicial restraint) and linking it to Jacobs' writing, particularly Death and Life of Great American Cities.  I think if one wants to know how a judge might implement Jacobs' ideas, one can get a good sense from reading Butzner's opinions. 

Here is a lovely interview from 2001 in Reason magazine.

Endnote: Jane Jacobs' portrait is courtesy of our friends over at wikipedia.

Update: I've now posted to the New York Times full obituary.

Alfred L. Brophy

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I grew up with Jane Jacobs, so to speak. My mother was much taken with her first and greatest book when it was published. (In fact, from looking at pictures of Jacobs, she and my mother had a phsyical resemblence and were roughly the same age.) Her bo... [Read More]

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