Jacobs’ critics also marked her 100th anniversary — but by bemoaning her influence. As former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan told CBC, his city is only now beginning to recover from an unfortunate love affair with Jane Jacobs. In his view, her ideologically anti-high-rise, anti-development and anti-change thinking led to sprawl and unaffordable neighbourhoods except for the very few who got in early and then kept others out, profiting at their expense.
“She was very much against towers; she was against the highway, high-rise city,” Sullivan lamented. “Her own home (in Toronto’s Annex) is in an area that should have been densified a lot earlier. One of my favourite moments in life was when I got to sit on the porch with Jane Jacobs and talk about porches. I was such a big fan of hers but over time as I tried to densify Vancouver, I ran into people who were advocates of Jane Jacobs’ ideas and I realized then that there were some negative parts (to her legacy).”
Sullivan is confused, as are her devotees on the left who think she held the anti-development views they hold dear. Jane Jacobs was not “very much against towers.” I was a colleague of hers, and in literally hundreds of conversations that I had with her over a period of 25 years, not once did she ever express an animus towards high rises. Jane did object to high-rise towers for public housing — but then, she objected to all public housing — and she did object to the useless green space that planners forced on high-rise builders, calling such “tower-in-a-park” developments economically sterile. But Jane also thought some areas needed more high-rise towers. Her views on high-rises, as on everything, were never ideological; they were matter-of-fact, geared to solving real-world problems. …
Sullivan seems not to understand that Jane Jacobs’ legacy has been appropriated (misappropriated, really) by those determined to impose the type of results Jane favoured, not realizing her desired results — such as diverse neighbourhoods — can’t be imposed by planners. The misappropriators do harm, too, by failing to understand that Jane’s thinking transcends cities to include economic development and wealth creation generally. Because human ingenuity is unlimited, she believed, the planet is blessed with “unlimited resources.” In a message her fans of today would not want to hear, Jane concluded that planning for resource shortages is not planning for sustainable “economic development at all. It is planning for stagnation.”
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