FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Jane Jacobs Five Years Later

by ROBIN PHILPOT

Jane Jacobs passed away five years ago on April 25, 2006. She will be remembered for her matchless contribution to cities throughout the world.
Less remembered—sometimes belittled—is her work on nations, national sovereignty, and the relationship between cities and the development of nations. Yet her third and her forth books dealt specifically with these issues and, in light of the current election campaign in Canada, they are still very relevant. The Question of Separatism (1980) and Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984) were published in the wake of her two seminal books on cities, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and The Economy of Cities (1968), both written before she moved to Canada.

Nagging questions remain five years after her death? Why has the work of a leading thinker on the unfolding story of nations received so little attention? Why is the only book she wrote about her adopted country, The Question of Separatism, never discussed? Why, unlike her other six books, was it out of print for 25 years? How can 35 experts put together a 400-page anthology, What we see, Advancing the observations of Jane Jacobs (2010), without mentioning the book?

Jacobs answered these questions in part in an interview she granted me in 2005. She pointedly broke with her no-interview policy because this interview was to focus on her book The Question of Separatism, Quebec and the struggle over sovereignty, 25 years after it appeared and ten years after the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty.

Asked if the media ever talked to her about her book on separatism, Jacobs replied, “No. Practically never! You’re the first.” Explaining the silence she added: “Don’t want to think about it… or engage in talking pros and cons and why people feel this way. It’s an unwelcome subject (…) It was fear that there would be no more identity for Canada, that it would disintegrate if Quebec were to separate. It was foolish because there are so many examples of separatism, and nothing has disintegrated, unless they went to war. There were over thirty of these cases in very recent times since the issue of Quebec was raised in 1980.”

As in her other books, Jane Jacobs brought to bear her renowned capacity to observe the real world, avoided ideology and sloganeering, and set forth practical win-win solutions. Using examples, particularly that of Norway and Sweden, she discussed the timeless issues that influence—or afflict—debate on separatism in the world, such as emotion, national size and paradoxes of size, duality and federation, and the relationship between competing urban centres.

Jacobs posited that large regional cities and the nations they drive require a degree of political sovereignty to develop successfully, failing which they become “passive and provincial,” relegated to the shadow of a dominant city region. That is what she so accurately predicted about Montreal and Toronto, a result of the “gathering force” of national centralization concentrated in her home city of Toronto. She added that the desire for Quebec sovereignty was not about to disappear, unless of course Montrealers—and Quebecers—were ready to resign themselves to being a satellite of the greater Toronto city region. Ever the pragmatist, Jane Jacobs also showed how all parties stand to gain from a new arrangement that respects the Quebec people’s will for sovereignty.

The actors have changed since 1980 but the script remains the same. For example, in Canada’s upcoming May 2 federal election, Quebec will likely return a majority of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois members to the federal parliament, thus perpetuating an 18-year stalemate. This would not have surprised Jane Jacobs, who stood behind her 1980 conclusions. When I asked her in 2005 if she would write the same book again, she smiled confidently, “Yes, not because it is in my head, but because that’s the way it is in the world, and it still holds.”

Five years after her death, hopefully we will benefit from her work on nations as much as we have from her work of cities.

ROBIN PHILPOT is Montreal writer and publisher whose 2005 interview with Jane Jacobs is published in the new edition of The Question of Separatism, Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (Baraka Books 2011)

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail