Jane Jacobs (born 1916), author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, died today. Obituaries will invariably describe her views in a way that suggest she made a case against market economics. But Rothbard described her book as “a brilliant, scintillating work celebrating the primacy for economic development, past and present, of free-market cities.”
And Gene Callahan and Sanford Ikeda agree that her research showed that government planning is what destroys cities:
Jacobs claims her keen understanding of urban processes originates by thinking inductively, rather than by proceeding explicitly from grand philosophical or ideological principles. She has been for and against various government initiatives. And the truth is that leftish intellectuals have indeed adopted many of her ideas. Although Jacobs is not uniformly opposed to using coercive regulation (e.g., substituting zoning for size limitations of buildings for zoning for use), in our opinion, however, those intellectuals have adopted her ideas out of context. That is, Jacobs’s descriptions of successful cities that have spontaneously formed walkable downtowns, mixed primary uses, short blocks, and buildings of a variety of styles and vintages have been interpreted by some as prescriptions for new, more enlightened forms of interventionist urban planning. Those in what are known as The New Urbanism and Smart Growth movements are especially guilty of this.
Jacobs herself has criticized the New Urbanists:
“[T]he New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I’ve seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don’t seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They’ve placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don’t connect.”
Despite her occasional advocacy of government intervention, there is a very strong libertarian tendency in Jacobs’ writings… FULL ARTICLE
The NYT recounts her history of protesting huge public works and the Vietnam War, and favoring secession to divide up large government units. “I hate the government for making my life absurd,” she said in an interview with the journal Government Technology in 1998.