Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)


From Spacing’s Wire, I learned that urban activist Jane Jacobs passed away in the night, eight days shy of her nintieth birthday. Born in the United States, she lived in Canada since 1968.

She wrote The Death and Life of American Cities, which was the first big broadside into the faults of the modern urban planning that left us dependent on the automobile, chewed up countryside in urban sprawl and killed American centre cities. She was an instrumental voice in the fight against Toronto’s Spadina Expressway and the ill-thought-out urban renewal projects of the 1960s. She saved SoHo, Greenwich Village and Chinatown in Manhattan. Slowly but surely, her insights contributed to the creation of a post-modern planning ethic that can be seen in places in Toronto’s downtown, certain new suburbs, and in our newfound appreciation of walkability. She was named to the Order of Canada in 1996.

While I was studying at the University of Waterloo’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, between 1991 and 1995, Jane Jacobs was always seen as a major figure in the new planning movement, but she never had any formal training in planning or architecture. Whereas the modern planning movement looked to the revolutionary architects of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, she spoke as an average citizen who had the gall to say that though the buildings might look spectacular, the neighbourhoods they created weren’t necessarily good places for humans to live.

She did not live to see her vision of our cities become the mainstream, but she was still a visionary. Slowly but surely, her ideas are working through our cities. Mayor David Miller is a fan. She has had a long and full life, and she’ll be remembered for decades to come. Few could ask for anything more.

(Edited to Add: 4:39 p.m.): Jay Currie and I do not often see eye to eye on a number of issues, but he and I share a profound respect for this woman and what she has accomplished. His obituary can be read here.

The Toronto Star has an excellent profile of the woman and her life.

On My Plate

First of all, I want to thank Bob Tarantino of Let it Bleed who posted the second review I’ve seen for The Unwritten Girl. It’s a glowing review that keeps its objectivity (though, of course I’m biased). Many thanks, Bob! I’m glad you liked the story. Thanks also to Stageleft and Andrew Anderson who are promoting my upcoming visit to Ottawa. I’m looking forward to visiting our nations capital and meeting the Ottawa blog crowd.

I’m a little slow in updating this blog this week because I have a few projects on the go. I’m just an interview and a few follow-up questions away from turning in two more articles to my editor at Business Edge, and I hope he likes them. The interview I did with Brantford mayor Mike Hancock turned up some really excellent quotes, and I feel good about how this piece about Wilfrid Laurier University and the revitalization of Brantford’s downtown is coming about. I also have a story on the fact that Waterloo Region and Guelph boasts no less than 150 think-tanks and research institutes, but I’m still struggling a bit to find the hook.

I’ve also been working on Fathom Five, to get it into submittable shape to take to my editor, possibly late May or early June. There’s no guarantee that The Unwritten Girl will get a sequel, so I want my submission to be a strong as possible. I’ve heard it said that the second book is as hard to get published as the first. Except when you consider the third book, and the fourth book, and the fifth book…

At least I have a second book and a third book. The editing is going well, I think, thanks to Marsha Skrypuch’s online critique group, and to the kind assistance of Erin and Cameron.

Anyway, here’s a scene from Fathom Five that Erin helped me work on. To set up, Peter (15) has been dreaming about the death of his parents when he was nine. Fiona, a young woman, was his babysitter on that fateful day. As something trails Peter and tries to draw him away from his friends and from Rosemary, it all culminates in the sudden, unlikely appearance of Fiona in his home in the middle of the night:

Fiona was just as Peter remembered her. She hadn’t aged a day since she’d babysat a nine-year-old boy who’d had a serious crush on her.

She was smiling at him. He remembered that smile.

“Fiona,” Peter breathed. “I haven’t seen you for…” Not since the accident, he realized. “How did you get in here?”

“You let me in,” said Fiona. “When you called to me in your dream.”

Peter gaped at her.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I’ve come to bring you home.”

He was still staring at her. He could feel himself doing it, but he couldn’t help it. She shone like the moon in fog.

She produced a steaming mug and held it out to him. “Coffee?”

It was the furthest thing from his mind. “What?”

“To help you think,” she said.

He took the coffee and gulped it. He gaped at the mug. “Hey, we’re out of coffee! How—”

She drew herself up gracefully. “Peter. Do you really want to ask about the coffee first?”

“Uh—” he said. “No, I — ” Then he shook his head till stuff rattled in it. “How did you get in here? Who are you? What are to talking about, home?”

“Home, Peter. To your family.”

“What family? I haven’t got a family, except for —” He didn’t say his uncle’s name. “What are you talking about?”

“Your real family, Peter. Our family. We have lived in the water, the shoreline our playground, since before people settled here. You are one of us. You are not human.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Come on, Peter. You know you don’t belong here. I’ve watched you. You play their games; you pass their tests; you live among them — but you are not one of them. Can’t you feel it?”

Peter took a breath to contradict her, then stopped.

She’s nuts, he told himself. But …. but she knew about my dream. She’s been in my dreams, and now here she is in front of me. Maybe I’m nuts. Would I even know?

“Keep talking,” he found himself saying.

“We put you with your parents,” she replied. “Your parents’ real baby was stillborn. We switched you with their child.”


“To spare them their loss,” she replied, “and to give you the benefits of a human upbringing.”

Peter’s eyes glazed over as he pictured it, his parents, not really his parents, smiling and cooing over his infant self. Living with them, being human, growing older.

A horn blared. A pickup truck slid forward, its wheels locked. There was a sickening thump.

Peter winced.

“I’ve been looking for you since we realized you were alone,” said Fiona. “I’ve looked for years.” There was something wrong about that line, but Peter couldn’t process it. Every time he tried, his mind grew foggy.

“And now,” said Fiona, “I can bring you home.”

“Home,” he said, and shook his head.

“The water is your home. You belong with us.”

He almost laughed but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop. “What, I can’t just visit for Christmas and Easter?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look,” said Peter. “This is crazy. I’m not going anywhere with you. I can’t go live in the lake. I belong here.”

Her lips tightened. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

Her emerald eyes bore into him. His uncle’s phone message echoed in his mind, and the silence of many nights alone. He remembered the bitter singe of Rosemary’s letter, and his words started to sound hollow to his ears. “I can’t go. How am I going to explain where I’m going?”

“Don’t explain. Just go.”

“But my friends will miss me,” said Peter. “Like Benson and Joe and— and—. And then there’s Rosemary.”

She smiled at him sadly. “Ah, yes, Rosemary. Is she all that you want her to be?”

Peter bit his lip. After a moment, he said, “She’d miss me if I left.”

She smiled, with a shadow behind her eyes. “Then you had better get ready for school, and see your friends.”


A flash made Peter turn around. He had to shield his eyes against the light streaming through the front windows. It couldn’t have been morning already, could it?

He turned back, but Fiona was gone. He sat alone, a cold cup of coffee by his hand.

His clock radio turned on in his room.

The house echoed with emptiness.

blog comments powered by Disqus