153 An Evening with Jane Jacobs
April 30, 2017 § 2 Comments
153 AN EVENING WITH JANE JACOBS
I was reminded of that evening when a recent issue of the TLS carried reviews of the first full first full biography of Jane Jacobs, and a collection of her hitherto unpublished small writings. She had been a hero of mine since DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES in 1961, and I had been flattered to learn, after I reviewed THE ECONOMY OF CITIES in 1968,that I “know what I am all about.”
But we had never met. So when I retired in June of 1999, I set out to drive across the country. I stopped in Montana and Michigan to see high school girl friends, and drove across Ontario to find Albany Avenue in Toronto where, she’d told me over the phone, she lives, the street tree lined, and lying between two good commercial streets.
We did not hit it off well. I gave her, having taught in a large university, a gloomy assessment of American ways of conducting its teachings, its evaluations of its teachers’ works’, and its means of promoting and granting tenure. “How cynical you are,” she said, having hitherto gathered a different sense of me. “my oldest son lives down the street, and having gained a Ph.D in Physics, he opened a successful business, and I couldn’t live here by myself after my husband died if he didn’t live just down the street. After I replied that that said little about academic life, we agreed to pause and break for dinner.
Prospects were much better. Good ethnic foods of as many varieties within fifteen minutes walk, which she managed with a cane and “Yes,” she said to my suggestion among choices. “Italian will work fine” It did, mightily aided with a full magnum of vino roso. We never returned to academic life(but only a few years later she’d written how quickly she learned I was right.) We seemed quite able to talk about cities the other didn’t know, Toronto for her, to which they moved to keep their sons out of Vietnam, and found neighborhood streets like theirs, and causes for action as worth fighting as those she’d fought in New York. I came back with Seattle, where my students claimed she didn’t know enough, about some of whose details they were right, though about others they were wrong because they hadn’t read CITIES AND THE WEALTH carefully enough. I added Palermo, which Jane knew only from the Mafia, and I’d learned from reading its history for a fortnight, and from the best meal I’ve ever eaten, fettuccini in lobster sauce, one whole lobster/person in a small place across the street from the post office.
Needless to say, evenings that keep getting better, and keep insisting on how cities and their details create their “wealth” also are worth driving across states and provinces to find a friend for life.