Jane Jacobs: An appreciation

Two days ago, an important voice, who challenged the status quo, died in Toronto, where she had lived. Jane Jacobs was a social critic who redefined and championed cities. Jacobs, who wrote the seminal work, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961, was a hero of mine and of many others who believe that urban centers like Evanston must be diverse, dynamic, and dense, in order to be successful. By congregating people and activities and promoting more social interaction, Jacobs offered prescriptions that questioned the often-destructive and popular urban renewal methods.

Today, Evanston has become an archetype Jane Jacobs city. The Chamber, Evmark, Evanston Inventure, our city planners, real estate developers, and our elected officials have all followed Jacobs’ model of neighborhood diversity, density in commercial areas, and a mix of buildings and uses. I also think Jane Jacobs would have welcomed a Chamber that celebrates rail transportation because public transit was an inherent part of her modern planning.

When you step out of this grand building tonight and on to an active and lively downtown street, you should know that Jane Jacobs’ spirit and influence lives in Evanston.

Jonathan Perman is Executive Director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. This is an excerpt from remarks on given on April 27 at the chamber's 86th Annual Meeting held at The Woman’s Club of Evanston.



Evanston as Jane Jacobs' spirit

I never read Jane Jacobs, or even heard of her until her recent passing. From what I have read, I agree with her completely.

For many years I have hated suburban living -- concrete corridors of strip malls; houses that offered only a garage door to the neighborhood; children isolated in minivans because of the absence of sidewalks; the need to get in the car to buy a bottle of milk.

In contrast, I wanted an urban environment that was diverse, compact, and alive. It sounds like Jane Jacobs articulated what I could not.

Since I moved to Evanston in January of 2005, I am increasingly grateful to the city leaders -- business owners, city planners, elected officials -- as well as the citizens of Evanston, who have helped to make Evanston the vibrant, interesting, lively city that it is.