I grew up with Jane Jacobs, so to speak. My mother was much taken with her first (and I believe best) book when it was first published. (In fact, from looking at pictures of Jacobs, she and my mother had a physical resemblance and were roughly the same age.) Her book was around the house. So I read Death and Life... when I was in junior high or something like that; I guess the book must have some impact on me.
I don't have a lot more to add to the many observations of her importance. But Chris Bertrams's brief notice and links at Crooked Timber prompted me to comment there.
I have no doubt that Jacobs will be claimed (especially now that she can't respond) by both Left and Right for their own purposes, (Indeed, I have no doubt that even Gehry and Koolhaas will now be claiming her as their inspiration.) So I will repeat my comment from CT here in hopes of helping to prevent the total distortion of her legacy:
Jeff Pruzan's obituary in the Financial Times offers the (I think) very incorrect suggestion that Jacobs “spent her entire career fighting for one deceptively simple principle: leave the cities alone and let them develop by themselves.”
I believe that is not an accurate assessment at all. Jacobs believed that there are rules for good city building and while there need not be a great many rules, rules there must be. She by no means urged any sort of anarchy.
Indeed, it’s not really clear what a statement like “leave the cities alone and let them develop by themselves” could actually mean. Cities don’t develop by themselve. Cities are not urban gaias, some meta-object. They don't think on their own but are the manifestation of many separate thoughts. Individuals and various corporate entities—people— create them and there must be some set of rules by which they organize and coordinate their activities. For example, Jacobs wasn’t fighting Robert Moses because he was an urban planner, setting forth rules, but simply because he was implementing bad rules which resulted in bad plans.
But, take note you enthusiasts for "more planning." I think Jacobs would agree that while rules are essential, land use laws should have a "least intrusive means" test so that we end up with the fewest rules possible. Indeed, it would be a fitting tribute to Mrs. Jacobs if the American Planning Association would adopt a "fewest rules possible" goal. I'm reminded of Prof. Gary Hack's "Ten Commandments of Design Review and rule #2 in particular, with which I think Jacobs would be sympathetic:
2. Do not overreach. Don't try to regulate too much. Isolate the small number of critical aspects of design that can make a difference. Ask: "How few rules to set?"
Such would be a fitting epitaph for the grand dame of urbanism.
Others comment on Mrs. Jacobs:
Btw, I did a "Technorati" search last night for "Janbe Jacobs" and I think I found literally hundred of blog links, though most of them are fairly or extremely superficial with no commentary on or assessment of her importance.