Last night, Jane Jacobs died at Toronto Western Hospital. There is a good, long article about her on the Star’s website.
I first met Jane in the early days of Streetcars for Toronto. David Gurin, then a researcher working for the US Senate committee investigating the role of the auto industry in destroying American transit systems, came to Toronto to see how we had saved our streetcars. He was a friend of Jane’s, and the three of us lunched near Bloor and Avenue Road.
Jane was a presence for decades in Toronto who kept popping up here and there (usually “there” — she always seemed to be off at some other meeting than the one I was at) with simple, clear words about what Toronto as a City could be despite the worst excesses of our so-called leaders.
Last April, I was privileged to receive the Jane Jacobs Prize in recognition of years of transit advocacy. To be associated with such a luminary as Jane is a huge honour and it links my own work with that of many other people who make a difference in how our city has grown. When the award winners gather and I hear stories of what others have done, somehow the battles to make the Queen car run properly don’t seem quite as heroic.
That’s what makes cities great: people who care about the place they live, how it works, why it works, what makes a neighbourhood rather than a bunch of buildings.
Last year sitting on the podium during the award ceremony, I had the joy of watching as Jane skewered David Miller with a diatribe against his “North York Planning Department”. Few people could get away with that, and it’s a measure of our city that we have a Mayor who would sit and listen to Jane. It’s been a while.
Jane’s advice won’t be there in person any more to decry an over-large condo tower or a ludicrous road project or to talk about the role of communities. Those of us who remain will carry Jane’s torch even if our comic timing and acid wit may not match hers.
Somewhere in the clouds, Robert Moses is trying to build an expressway network and he’s just discovered that Jane has arrived to defeat him, again.