Jane Jacobs was a renowned urbanist, activist and writer. She was best known as a harsh critic of urban renewal, claiming expressways and housing projects destroy diverse older neighborhoods.
As a young adult, Jacobs lived in New York City, working a variety of jobs including stenographer and freelance writer. She was also active in opposing the construction of large roads, protesting against the creation Lower Manhattan Expressway, the Cross-Bronx Expressway and others. She served on the New York Community Planning Board and was active in trying to save vibrant communities, like Greenwich Village.
In 1968, at 52 years of age, Jacobs relocated to Toronto, where she continued to act as a voice for small communities. In Toronto, Jacobs also expanded her role as an urban activist, helping to build several diverse and livable urban areas, like the successful St. Lawrence neighborhood.
Jacobs was also an accomplished writer, composing six books about the character of communities. Her most influential work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is a strong critique of the urban renewal policies.
She was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1996 for her important contributions to the field of urban development, a rare and impressive honor on par with British knighthood. The Community and Urban Sociology section of the American Sociological Association awarded her its Outstanding Lifetime Contribution award in 2002. The City of Toronto also awards an annual Jane Jacobs Prize, given to citizens engaged in the city’s vitality.
Though she was a passionate advocate and protester, Jacobs was also warm and personable. She became involved with Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1995, when she welcomed HWS urban studies students into her Toronto home as part of the Two Cities: New York and Toronto course.
Jacobs died in April 2006, at the age of 89.