Jane Jacobs & The Neighborhoods of Toronto

“People would ask me after we had decided to stay, “Well, when are you coming back?” “Well, we’re not. We are living here.” “Oh, but you can’t just—you’ve got to come back to real life.” And I would say, “It’s just as real.” This is very hard for Americans to understand and I think that may be the biggest difference between Americans and people elsewhere. Canadians know that there are places just as real as Canada.”

-Jane Jacobs, on moving from New York to Toronto, from a March 2001 interview by Jim Kunstler for Metropolis Magazine

June 5, 2012, Washington, DC: The late Jane Jacobs is best known in the States for her years as a quintessential New Yorker: Her observations about city living on Greenwich Village’s Hudson Street and her vocal opposition to building a highway on the Lower East Side shaped not only the city itself, but influenced the way we think about major metropolises. But the godmother of urban studies would later make another city her home. In the late 1960s, Jacobs, then in her early 50s, relocated with her family from New York to Toronto, where she was actively involved from the get-go both in the city’s politics and in the more subtle rhythms of its lively streets. Shortly after moving in, Jacobs helped put an stop to the completion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway, a proposed north-south highway that would chop the city in half, just as she had spoken up against Robert Moses in New York. Various Toronto writers at the time of Jacobs’ death in 2006 reminisced about seeing her out and about on Bloor St. in the Annex neighborhood where she lived near Bathhurst subway station and lingering regularly in her neighborhood bookstore, always vigorously participating in her hometown. Jacobs lived in Toronto for nearly half her life and became a Canadian citizen in 1974.

For those of us who believe in Jacobs’ conviction that strong, active and diverse neighborhoods are the lifeblood of successful cities, the proof is every bit as evident in Toronto as it is in New York.

Continue reading

Today’s Pit Stops

May 18, 2012, Washington, DC: We’ve got a few pit stops to make today and stopping by to applaud Bike to Work Day is only the first. Next up, we’ve got a stop at the Metro station and another at the airport, a hiatus up in the air and a trip out to Long Island. We’ll stop by the rental car counter and set out for a drive on roads we’ve never navigated before arriving for a wedding in a town we’ve never seen.

But first we stop one hundred yards from the front door at one of 58 pit stops throughout DC, Virginia and Maryland set up this morning to help riders navigate Bike to Work Day.

Continue reading

Spontaneity in the City

“Cities make it easier to watch and listen and learn. Because the essential characteristic of humanity is our ability to learn from each other, cities make us more human.”

-Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City

April 12, 2012, Washington, DC: That right there describes the draw of these places. These places allow us to crowd the streets, listen to music, gather for meals, run into friends, meet strangers. Implicit in the idea that cities make it easier to learn from each other is the idea that they facilitate spontaneous connections. We wander out onto our sidewalks and see where the day takes us. It could lead anywhere. We felt this way on Polk Street in San Francisco and we feel this way on 7th St. in Washington.

Continue reading

The Bottom Line on the High Line

“If the future is going to be greener, then it must be more urban. Dense cities offer a means of living that involves less driving and smaller homes to heat and cool. Maybe someday we’ll be able to drive and cool our homes with almost no carbon emissions, but until then, there is nothing greener than blacktop.”
-Edward Glaser, Triumph of the City

March 31, 2012, New York: I recently read both Edward Glaser’s Triumph of the City and David Owen’s Green Metropolis. They both make the case that city living is a wise environmental choice — both argue that city dwellers tendencies to live small, walk more, and reuse spaces we already occupy rival choices to head for the hills in order to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Still, city dwellers yearn for the green spaces and breaths of fresh air so readily available out there in our natural landscapes. Lucky for them, there are more and more efforts to bring the outdoors in to the urban equation.

I think about these initiatives this afternoon as we make our first visit to Manhattan’s massive recycling project known as the High Line.

Continue reading

A Neighborhood Valentine

“Neighborhood is a word that has come to sound like Valentine. As a sentimental concept, “neighborhood” is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense.”

-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

February 14, 2012: It’s not often I disagree with Jane Jacobs, the godmother of urban planning. But I take issue with the notion that getting sentimental about our city neighborhoods is a bad thing. An emotional connection to these places does not oversimplify them or make them more provincial. We wouldn’t live here if that’s what we were after. The qualities we love (yes, love) most about these city neighborhoods are the very qualities that make them urban.

Continue reading

Phases of City Living

February 12, 2012, Washington, DC: Do you think you might outgrow your neighborhood as you get older? Or that it suits you now that you’re settled but would never have suited your younger self? Does the place you call home appeal to you as you envision yourself in various stages of life? Is it big enough to grow into once you leave behind one phase and enter the next? Are the people who live nearby all the same age or is there a wide variety of ages represented throughout your hometown?

Continue reading

Sydney, My Love

                                                                                                   Sydney, February 2000

February 4, 2012, Washington, DC:
I have a hunch Sydney would appeal to my grown up self even more than it did to my college self. I’m certain one weekend spent in Sydney more than a decade ago was insufficient. I’m convinced it’s a place near perfect for the person I am today.

Continue reading