One of my favorite writers of all time died late last year – Jane Jacobs, a Canadian urbanist, planner, philosopher and teacher.
Jane did not think like other people – she did not look at cities and see what other people were seeing. And of course I love people like that. Thinking with their own eyes and minds, not with what they’ve read. Her most powerful book, which changed city planning, architecture and public administration, is The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Cities and the Wealth of Nations is another magnificent work. Easy to read, though dense with thought. Common sense through and through. Jane taught us to trust what we already know, not what we are told by experts – I love that, too!
Her last book, and one of the best, is Dark Age Ahead. Published in 2004, it foresees a cultural dead end for our empire, if we are not ready to recognize the signs of decline around us. She discusses five central pillars of our society showing serious signs of decay: families rigged to fail, education becoming mere credentialing rather than supporting creativity, science and its fruitful questions abandoned in favor of political and religious answers, dumbed-down taxes where money is not put where it is most needed, and self-policing subverted in favor of maintaining public image.
I could add more, particularly our behavior as an electorate, where we only listen to what politicians say, and are not paying critical attention to what they actually do. We have chosen not to see what is really happening – for instance, we are 17th and falling in terms of health care worldwide. Culture after culture around the planet, says Jane, has disappeared from view – with successors, such as Central Americans, not even able to remember the ways their Mayan ancestors created temples and pyramids. We could disappear as well, if we won’t look with clear eyes and follow our own common sense.
Blessings and thanks to you, Jane – keep helping us from wherever you are!