Introduction for Jane Jacobs

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The highlight of the presentation ceremony is the introduction of the authors by distinguished individuals.

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Larry Beasley, the City of Vancouver's Co-Director of Planning and Director of Current Planning introduced Jane Jacobs' book Dark Age Ahead.

I'm here today to introduce Jane Jacob's book Dark Age Ahead. Jane Jacobs is a phenomenon!

First, over a generation ago, she single-handedly reformed the way planning is done in North America with her seminal book, Death and Life of Great American Cities. For anyone else this alone would have been a lifetime achievement.

But she continued to challenge us to both understand the city in new ways and to shape it and protect it accordingly in such books as The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations.

And now, in what for me is the most vital book of all, she offers our entire culture a clarion call about survival; about erosion of some of the most basic foundations of our culture and about the bad times that could overtake us if we do not act intelligently and decisively soon. Dark Age Ahead is a book that can not be ignored.

Jane Jacobs did all of this with no formal training in urbanism or civic economy. She let the city teach her. She did all this through stringent analysis, careful observation and sheer insight, matching and then surpassing all of the academic gurus of her generation. I think she did it out of shock at what she saw happening to modern cities and their people. I think writing was an imperative for her to testify about what was going on - I don't think she felt that she had much choice.

But we must all be thankful that she did put pen to paper over and over again because, otherwise, we would surely live in fundamentally more diminished and degraded cities than we now enjoy.

"Jane Jacobs" has become an adjective to say a city is very "Jane Jacobs" is to say it has been shaped according to the most essential principles of social, physical and economic ecology; that it is a living, thriving entity - but also a fragile and vulnerable organism: that it represents a humane civility. Vancouver is very "Jane Jacobs".

But there's much more to this woman's artistic talent.

Dark Age Ahead is a vivid illustration of how beautifully her books are written. Her books are written with an economy of language, with clear examples, with biting criticism and with wonderful wit that brings a simplicity and clarity to her gripping themes. They are delicious to read. You learn so much that is original as you read. They provoke introspection and debate. And to the seasoned urbanist and the occasional reader alike, they are enticing.

And that is why her books are so important: not only has her subject matter and her informed opinions influenced the field of urbanism itself, but the manner in which she has presented that information, and the beautiful literature that has been produced, has continued to draw people back time and time again.

So it is absolutely fitting and very exciting for all people interested in cities - and all those with a stake in the continued survival of civic culture - that Jane Jacobs and Dark Age Ahead are short listed for this Award.

As an aside, as an immigrant myself an American ex-patriot like Jane Jacobs - I am especially thrilled to see her honoured at the heart of Canadian culture as a genuine Canadian voice. She has enjoined her soul with this country, and has for so many years. In this book she is an oracle of Canadian insight for the rest of the world. It sings through every page, and is not whitewashed for American consumption; it exploits Canadian experience, and uses our perspective to offer lessons for people here and everywhere else.

As you come to know Jane through her writing, you'll like her she's feisty (I've seen very powerful people taken aback by her knife-edge critique); she's just so smart (after we toured her around Vancouver several years ago she summed up everything she saw in one smart word - diversity); and she cares (she was a supporter of Jim Green and what he was trying to do for Vancouver's poor long before he became famous and it became the accepted thing to do). She and her book deserve this award. She's a national treasure.

To accept this recognition for their mother who can't be here today because of the difficulties of travel, I would now ask Ned and Burgen to come forward and accept it on her behalf. It is appropriate that they should do so because they have been supporters and active collaborators with their mother for so many years and in so many ways.

British Columbia Achievement Foundation
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