Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs (Random House), 241 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
When New York City intellectuals debate, they take no prisoners. You can see this in the long polemics exchanged by the two planning prophets Jane Jacobs and the late Lewis Mumford. That polemical urge sets the tone for Jacobs's latest book, Dark Age Ahead, and has shaped some of its otherwise inexplicable contradictions. For example, Jacobs praises former Toronto mayor David Crombie for integrating Toronto's social housing into the fabric of city neighbourhoods, but then ducks the controversial question of why construction of the projects ceased. Earlier she suggests it was because they were badly planned, autocratically run and not popular with either taxpayers or tenants.
She lets the real culprit off the hook. Credit the Harris government with the 1995 demise of programs to build more non-profit housing. Mike Harris is never mentioned in Dark Age Ahead.
Jacobs also fails to mention other incidents that helped create the climate for Harris's slashing - notably the Toronto Star's denunciation of NDP politicians Roger Hollander, Dan Heap, Jack Layton and Olivia Chow for the crime of living their ideals in income-integrated co-op housing projects.
Dark Age Ahead does contain some beautiful treasures. The most magnificent is her exposé of the fake science of traffic engineering.
Jacobs combines her debunking of traffic engineering with a bold vision influenced by the turn-of-the-last-century's City Beautiful movement, which her earlier anti-planning polemics disparaged. Citing a recently published history of boulevards, she suggests we tear down the Gardiner expressway and replace it with a spectacular tree-lined avenue.
What more appropriate tribute to Jacobs could there be than replacing the ugly Gardiner with a boulevard similar to the soon-to-be-tree-sheltered Spadina Avenue? Imagine a green spine for the waterfront, connecting similar verdant avenues with shaded streetcar rights of way. They could all intersect like a native medicine wheel in a magnificent Arc de Triomphe memorializing a great native hero like Tecumseh or the Peacemaker.
Let's call it Jane Jacobs Boulevard.
Jacobs discusses her new book with Andy Barrie at the Berkeley Church, Tuesday (May 25). See readings
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