The first major biography of the irrepressible woman who changed the way we view and live in cities, and whose influence is felt to this day.
Jane Jacobs was a phenomenal woman who wrote seven groundbreaking books, saved neighborhoods, stopped expressways, was arrested twice, and engaged in thousands of impassioned debates—all of which she won. Robert Kanigel's revelatory portrait of Jacobs, based on new sources and interviews, brings to life the child who challenged her third-grade teacher; the high school poet; the mother who raised three children; the journalist who honed her skills at Architectural Forum and Fortune before writing her most famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; and the activist who helped lead a successful protest against Robert Moses’s proposed expressway through her beloved Greenwich Village.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Great Bewildering World
It couldn’t have been long into her life there that Jane learned what every New Yorker knew, that “the city” was Manhattan, period. The fur district she’d stumbled upon so fortuitously was in Manhattan. So was the diamond district. Vogue itself, New York fashion personified, was in Manhattan. The jobs she got that first year were all in Manhattan, as were the better jobs she sought now. So were Broadway, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, the tall towers, the publishing houses, the galleries, and practically all the other iconic places of New York. It was hard not to feel the pull. Jane had only to glance down Henry Street, at the great stone arches that were the Brooklyn Bridge approaches, to take herself in her mind’s eye to Manhattan. For Jane, as for any young person of curiosity and spunk, the city beckoned.
On one of her forays into Manhattan near the end of that first year, probably in late summer, Jane got out at the Christopher Street subway stop; she “liked the sound of the name,” she’d say. She had no idea where she was, “but I was enchanted with this place . . . I spent the rest of the afternoon just walking these streets.”
As she got off the train, she’d have seen the name of the station set in mosaic tile, as in most of New York’s four hundred–odd subway stations:
Sheridan Square was no “square” at all, of course. But out of its irregular and unlovely expanse radiated Seventh Avenue South and wide West Fourth Street. Stroll along them, or on Grove Street, Washington Place, or Waverly Place, which all converged there, and soon you found yourself among a warren of little streets south and west of the square, the clubs and bars lining West Fourth Street that drew revelers from the outer boroughs, art galleries, small shops, modest apartment buildings.
It was here, in a low-lying bowl of cityscape mostly off the tourist maps, far from the great employment centers, not grand, not rich, maybe a little ragtag, that Jane now found herself. No neatly defined shopping districts here in the streets near Sheridan Square, nothing like upscale Fifth Avenue or proletarian Fourteenth Street—no neatly defined anything. Blocks of handsome brownstones across Sixth Avenue that could have stepped out of a Henry James novel, musical Italian filling the shops and stoops of the tenements to the south, gritty warehouses and a sprinkling of small-scale industry to the west. Along Bleecker Street, a bakery selling Italian bread for a nickel a loaf, a cheese shop selling ricotta for twenty-five cents a pound. Peasant smocks, antique jewelry, and second-hand books for sale arrayed on one block. A drugstore selling cosmetics and contraceptives. An ice cream parlor where the neighborhood’s young Italian men hung out. The scale was small, the range and variety stunning, the streetscape obeying nothing like cool Cartesian order. This wasn’t New York in its bigness, its numbers, its densest crowds that Jane found here. If anything, it was New York in all its smallness, its irregularity, its turn-the-corner-and-what-do-you-find little shocks and surprises.
The Manhattan street grid fell apart here, as if by an abrupt, invasive fault in an otherwise orderly crystal matrix. West Fourth Street, obediently grid-bound just to the east, at Sheridan Square abruptly veered northwest and, after a few blocks, dared to run, against all sense and logic, into West Eleventh Street. Other streets, like Carmine, Cornelia, and Jones, simply disappeared after a block or two. A conscientious student of urban life, Professor Caroline Ware of Vassar College, had recently tallied the “contents” of one block of Jones Street. She counted old-law tenements and 1840s-vintage houses, an apartment house that went up only in 1929, factories that made feather mattresses, children’s toys, and Italian ice cream; an old stable, a settlement house, two grocers, a tobacco and candy store, an ice dealer’s cellar, a French hand laundry, a barber shop, a tea room, an “Italian men’s café,” a wrought iron workshop, and (it still being Prohibition at the time of her census) three speakeasies. All in a single block. Behind this line of five-story façades—inside, unseen, hidden—life played out each day and night, in all its struggles, pains, and pleasures; on the busy sidewalks outside, traces and whispers only of those silent stories, spilling out into the city’s everyday jangle.
Spend an afternoon on streets like Jones Street, as Jane did, and any part of the brain habituated to easy order was bound to come away bruised. But Jane? She “liked the little streets,” she’d remember. “I liked the variety of it and there were craft shops of hand-made things of ingenuity and artistry. I had never seen shops like those. I just thought it was great.” The whole neighborhood was great. Could she have said why, exactly? Maybe not. She was nineteen. She was all enthusiasm.
Table of Contents
Part I An Uncredentialed Woman 1916-1954
Chapter 1 A Generous Place to Live 19
Chapter 2 Outlaw 36
Chapter 3 Ladies' Nest of Owls, and Other Milestones in the Education of Miss Jane Butzner 48
Chapter 4 The Great Bewildering World 61
Chapter 5 Morningside Heights 74
Chapter 6 Women's Work 85
Chapter 7 Amerika 95
Chapter 8 Trushchoby 108
Part II In the Big World 1954-1968
Chapter 9 Disenchantment 129
Chapter 10 Ten Minutes at Harvard 146
Chapter 11 A Person Worth Talking To 157
Chapter 12 A Manuscript to Show Us 176
Chapter 13 Mother Jacobs of Hudson Street 199
Chapter 14 The Physical Fallacy 208
Chapter 15 West Village Warrior 224
Chapter 16 Luncheon at the White House 247
Chapter 17 Gas Masks at the Pentagon 260
Part III On Albany Avenue 1968-2006
Chapter 18 A Circle of Their Own 277
Chapter 19 Settling In 291
Chapter 20 Our Jane 308
Chapter 21 Flummoxed 319
Chapter 22 Adam, Karl, and Jane 329
Chapter 23 Webs of Trust 342
Chapter 24 Ideas That Matter 364
Chapter 25 Civilization's Child 382
Acknowledgments and Sources 401