FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Jane Jacobs Five Years Later

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)

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail