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Happy 100th Birthday, Jane Jacobs

“We came to Toronto,” she says, “because it’s a place where you can work, it’s a place where you can live well, it’s a place where there is hope.” –Jane Jacobs (1971)

It was my birthday this week (May 2nd). But it was also the birthday of someone far more noteworthy. This past May 4th marks what would have been Jane Jacob’s 100th birthday. (She passed in Toronto in 2006.)

In commemoration of this, Toronto Life published a photographic essay, along with a short piece by Joe Berridge. Joe is a partner at the urban design and planning firm Urban Strategies. He’s also a great storyteller.

Here’s an excerpt:

Jane didn’t do nice—Toronto’s default emotional setting. She was cantankerous and argumentative: once you got on the wrong side of her, that was that. About 20 years ago, when I was working as an urban planner, we were on a panel together at Boston College. I was making some remarks about city planning she clearly thought rubbish—and she just interrupted me. “Joe, Joe, Joe,” she said (her squawky Scranton, Pennsylvania, accent made it sound like “jaw, jaw, jaw”). “You’re tacking nansense.” The audience agreed. After I spoke, an incomprehensible social science professor took the stage. Jane wasn’t fond of academics—she didn’t think they knew much—but to make matters worse, he kept addressing her as Professor Jacobs. “Staap calling me prafessa,” she barked. “I barely graduated high school.” He and I both slunk offstage in shame, clutching our notes.

Jacobs was certainly a force to be reckoned with. Without a doubt, she left her mark on this city, as well as others, like New York. And I believe that she is part of the reason why – almost 50 years after she first moved to Toronto – we remain a city where you can work, live well, and where there is hope. I like that simple characterization.

If you’d like to read/see the full piece by Toronto Life, click here.

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