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The Kind of Problem a City Is: Constructing Jane Jacobs

Wed, Jul 6, 2016    12:30pm

Jane Jacobs is a meme, less an author than a figure of speech, a metonym, an idea suffusing conversations about cities and urbanity. Her very name evokes conflicting images about power, action and experience of the city. Jacobs’ writings have profoundly shaped urban discourse and popular perceptions of cities and streets yet such renown generates a need for scrutiny.

On the anniversary of her birth, we celebrate Jacobs’ place in the urban landscape but, at the same time, this symposium recognizes that her quiet polemicism was never simple nor without tension. The symposium asks how Jacobs has been continually interpreted; how different disciplines, professions and practices have constructed points of view, taken positions, based on readings of her work. This approach does not ask what Jacobs did or did not say – although this is part of any examination – but asks what is said in her name, when, and by whom. We would like to discuss how her work has been situated in the networks of discourse that make up various design disciplines. 

The Urban Design program at Columbia GSAPP offers this symposium as part of a year-long celebration of Jacobs’ life and work, in concert with the Municipal Art Society. Several disciplines within GSAPP are represented, each offering a particular reading of her work.

David Smiley, Urban Design

Patrice Derrington, Real Estate and Development
Cassim Shepard, Urban Design
Thomas De Monchaux, Architecture
Bob Beauregard, Urban Planning

We recommend attendees download two short excerpts of Jacob’s work: The Death and Life of American Cities (1961) and The Economy of Cities (1969).