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Jane Jacobs

  • My mother used to say when we were children, 'When a boy gets a stick in his hand, his brains run out the other end of it.' Power is a stick in the hand, and I have never heard of anybody who wielded a very big stick of power whose brains did not run out the other end. As a nation, our brains are running out the other end of our power right now.

    • Jane Jacobs,
    • in Elizabeth Janeway, ed., The Writer's World ()
  • Power is supposed to be so corrupt. I don't think it's so much corrupt, in the usual sense of the word, as stupid and unrealistic. The more power a person has, the further he gets from reality.

    • Jane Jacobs,
    • in Elizabeth Janeway, ed., The Writer's World ()
  • ... it is immoral for powerless people to accept this powerlessness. They may not succeed in getting power but they can fight for it, and if enough fight for it, it makes it very difficult for the people with the big sticks.

    • Jane Jacobs,
    • in Elizabeth Janeway, ed., The Writer's World ()
  • We think of the experiments of particle physicists and space explorers as being extraordinarily expensive, and so they are. But the costs are as nothing compared with the incomprehensibly huge resources that banks, industries, governments and international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations have poured into tests of macro-economic theory. Never has a science, or supposed science, been so generously indulged. And never have experiments left in their wakes more wreckage, unpleasant surprises, blasted hopes and confusion, to the point that the question seriously arises whether the wreckage is reparable ...

  • ... observation of realities has never, to put it mildly, been one of the strengths of economic development theory.

  • Nations are political and military entities, and so are blocs of nations. But it doesn't necessarily follow from this that they are also the basic, salient entities of economic life or that they are particularly useful for probing the mysteries of economic structure, the reasons for rise and decline of wealth. Indeed, the failure of national governments and blocs of nations to force economic life to do their bidding suggests some sort of essential irrelevance.

  • Innovating economies expand and develop. Economies that do not add new kinds of goods and services, but continue only to repeat old work, do not expand much nor do they, by definition, develop.

  • ... poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes. Analogically, heat is a result of active processes; it has causes. But cold is not the result of any processes; it is only the absence of heat. Just so, the great cold of poverty and economic stagnation is merely the absence of economic development.

  • The primary conflict, I think, is between people whose interests are with already well-established economic activities, and those whose interests are with the emergence of new economic activities.

  • Does anyone suppose that, in real life, answers to any of the great questions that worry us today are going to come out of homogeneous settlements?

  • What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles? ... In that case America will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia. What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable. The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles.

  • In small settlements everyone knows your affairs. In the big city, everyone does not — only those you choose to tell will know about you. This is one of the attributes of cities that is precious to most city people.

  • The point of cities is multiplicity of choice.

  • Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success, in city building and city design.

  • Great cities are not like towns, only larger. They are not like suburbs, only denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers.

  • Today barbarism has taken over many city streets, or people fear it has, which comes to much the same thing in the end.

  • It is hopeless to try to convert some borders into seams.

  • When we deal with cities we are dealing with life at its most complex and intense. Because this is so, there is a basic esthetic limitation on what can be done with cities: a city cannot be a work of art.

  • To approach a city, or even a city neighborhood, as if it were a larger architectural problem, capable of being given order by converting it into a disciplined work of art, is to make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life. The results of such profound confusion between art and life are neither life nor art. They are taxidermy.

  • There are dangers in sentimentalizing nature. Most sentimental ideas imply, at bottom, a deep if unacknowledged disrespect. It is no accident that we Americans, probably the world's champion sentimentalizers about nature, are at one and the same time probably the world's most voracious and disrespectful destroyers of wild and rural countryside.

  • Sentimentality about nature denatures everything it touches.

  • Being human is itself difficult, and therefore all kinds of settlements (except dream cities) have problems. Big cities have difficulties in abundance, because they have people in abundance.

  • But look what we have built ... This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities.

  • All through organized history, if you wanted prosperity you had to have cities. Cities are places that attract new people with new ideas.

    • Jane Jacobs,
    • in The Los Angeles Times ()

Jane Jacobs, U.S. urbanologist, social critic, writer

(1916 - 2006)

Full name: Jane Butzner Jacobs.