Stephen A. Goldsmith is an urban planner, artist, and scholar, whose wide-ranging projects find their grounding in the wisdom of Jane Jacobs. Lynne Elizabeth is founder and director of New Village Press. She is the past president of Architects/ Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), a public-benefit educational organization founded in 1981 that works for peace, environmental protection, social justice, and development of healthy communities.
The idea for What We See originated with the Jacobs-oriented Center for the Living City as a celebration honoring Jacobs, but the book took on a different form under Elizabeth's guidance. "I thought Jane would not have wanted a book about her," Elizabeth says, noting that two histories centering on her and a biography have recently been published. "Instead, we invited people from diverse fields to write their own ideas about how things work and describe the systems they see operating now and into the future."--Suzanne Mantell"Publisher's Weekly" (05/26/2010)
I encourage anyone who is interested in our cities and economies, how they work and how they can be vibrant and flourishing to read this book. I regret that I couldn't choose from the essays which illustrations or quotes or insights to highlight in a single review, there is just too much quality.--Hazel Ashton"Village Connections" (06/22/2010)
Standing on Jacobs's shoulders, as it were, the selections here range from arguments like Sirman's to quieter reminiscences about the woman's influence, meditations on urban spaces to nuts-and-bolts discussions of environmental initiatives, portraits of cities to stories about revitalized neighborhoods. There is even an imagined conversation between political figure and community advocate Daniel Kemmis and Jacobs herself, as the two "stroll" through Missoula, Montana.
In one of the collection's most memorable pieces, Clare Cooper Marcus, a professor at Berkeley, writes about "cluster housing," a trend in which homes are built around a shared green space where children (and parents, too) can play in nature, safe from traffic and yet still within earshot of a mother's dinner shout.
In another Janine Benyus tells a story about her work in biomimicry, the study of nature's designs to deal sustainably and smartly with our engineering problems.--Allyn West"Cite Magazine" (07/08/2010)
It is a new, entrepreneurial, 21st-century outlook. Indeed, the true message of What We See is that we have a fresh generation of urban thought leaders who have learned from Jane Jacobs, but are intelligent, passionate, and innovative enough to develop their own ideas, messages, and strategies for action.--Greg Heller "Urban Direction "
With that in mind, the book is an important one because while the ideas of Jane Jacobs have appeal for many people, in the end they are largely discarded in the interest of practicality and control. But as Sanford Ikeda reminds us in What We See, the city has no purpose or end in itself. Great cities enable the better part of its inhabitants to be free to pursue their own diverse interests with the maximum likelihood of success.
As a nation, we are rediscovering cities. And so we must continue to rediscover and advance the observations of Jane Jacobs. The best cities and the best neighborhoods are the ones with the widest variety of interests and the most diverse stakeholders. Anytime we use top-down planning to remake a place, the diversity of interests decreases. The ideas of Jane Jacobs will have won out only when this is understood.
What we see can help us learn to look, and understand.--Eric Miller"The New Colonist" (07/07/2010)
Given the nature of the topic and variety of perspectives, certain essays are very academic, with long lists of references to match. This is balanced, however, by others that are more digestible and readily accessible by the lay reader - not unlike Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
The ultimate strength of gathering and showcasing such a diverse collection of writings is that everyone is bound to find a number of essays that resonate with them, and at least one that inspires them.
In the end, however, what you'll want to do most is reread Jane's books. . . and that is definitely an achievement that the editors can be proud of.--Lisa Brideau"re: place Magazine" (07/06/2010)
The essays in What We See remind us that cities are inefficient, but in a good, necessary way, that they exist to allow inhabitants to pursue a wide range of dreams and goals, that they are complex and can be seemingly poised on the edge of chaos between the yin and yang of "I" the individual and "We" the body of citizens.--April Streeter"Treehugger" (05/24/2010)
Jacobs was a wise and inspiring canary in the coalmine to the arrogance and abuse of the Redevelopment Agencies. Is she relevant today? In What We See, twenty-five writers say yes, then advance her observations in the realms of the environment, sustainability and the just metropolis.--James Tracy"By the Book" (12/13/2011)
What We See reaches beyond the platitudes about Jacobs' work. It features stories of her ideals played out in specific places and spaces by the people she has inspired and those who share an affinity with the spirit (and not just the letter) of her work. . . Jacobs has, deservedly, become the "patron saint" of progressive planning--annointed, revered, almost untouchable. Celebratory and reflective, What We See revels in Jacobs' godlike status while trying to bring a sense of realness to an intellectual celebrity. . . read alongside Jacobs' works, this book points towards a contextualization and deeper understanding of her legacy, in planning and fields beyond.--Anusha Venkataraman "Progressive Planning "
"How can one resist cheering on this urban original? As one
reads these essays by the thoughtful and dedicated people Jane
Jacobs inspired through her writing, her organizing, her telephone
calling, her patternspotting, her sidewalk ballets, we see how she
and our neighborhoods live on through her ideas."
--Victor S. Navasky, Publisher Emeritus, The Nation, and author, A Matter of Opinion
"Jane Jacobs' work wouldn't have been complete if it hadn't
inspired others to carry it on, and evolve Jane's groundbreaking
accomplishments so that the essential kernel of thought remains
relevant for future generations. The essayists in What We
See have built on those essential footholds that people who
have never heard of Jane Jacobs will benefit from for decades."
--Majora Carter, founder, Sustainable South Bronx; winner, Rachel Carson Award and Paul Wellstone Award
"Exuberant, stimulating collection of essays on a person who
would be a saint or even an angel sent to us to uncover what really
helps us to be alive in our communities. There is no better place
to start than this book to see the wisdom Jane Jacobs so astutely
covered almost 50 years ago. We are at the precipice of a new era
and Jane Jacobs and her aficionados can show us what it could look
like. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
--Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces
"What We See is a moving and enlightening tribute to
the ideas and methods of Jane Jacobs from a diverse set of authors,
many of whom knew and revered Jane. Together the essays offer a
portrait of this revolutionary thinker that will inspire others to
observe closely, contemplate broadly, and engage civically."
--Glenna Lang, coauthor of Genius of Common Sense
"The Jane Jacobs legacy lives on, in this extraordinary
collection of essays. The reflections on this remarkable woman, and
the still-unfolding project of city-building today, are a joy to
--Anthony Flint, author of Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City
It is fruitless, however, to search for some dramatic key
element or kingpin which, if made clear, will clarify all. No
single element in a city is, in truth, the kingpin or the key. The
mixture itself is kingpin, and its mutual support is the order.
-The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961.
Often times, volumes or compendiums meant to celebrate the life's work of a single individual fall short of capturing the true spirit of the subject. The problem of capturing the impact that one person has had on a single profession is difficult enough; a task whose difficulty is only compounded when the subject of the compendium has influenced a wide array of professions, movements and causes.
In the wide world of planning - encompassing urban, city and regional planning specialties - Jane Jacobs' name is consistently atop the lists of most influential and inspiring planners. Ironically, Jane wasn't a planner (in the traditional sense of the term). Jane Jacobs was - and still is - much more than simply a planner who helped us to see and, almost more importantly, recognize the wonderful intricacies of the urban organism.
Never one to adhere to conventional labels, she embodied a long list of titles which have been associated with her life and her life's work. Author; Journalist; Activist; Urbanist; Economic Theorist; Community Organizer; and least of all, Planner.
Jane proved again and again through her insightful observations that more often than not, the most successful and vibrant neighborhoods were the exception to the rule; the rule, of course, being the restrictive and often confining dogmatic-based planning rules and regulations which stifle the organic development of neighborhoods and cities.
Just as she showed us nearly fifty years ago that "the mixture itself is kingpin, and its mutual support is the order," What We See holds true to this notion with an impressive and diverse mix of authors whose backgrounds could double for a description of the residents of a thriving, vibrant city neighborhood or as a description of an individual whose life and work seemed to defy conventional labels and descriptions.
What We See is a collection of essays which succeeds in capturing the true spirit of Jane's life and work. The authors do not simply espouse all of the ideas, notions and views which Jane pioneered simply to hear themselves speak; quite the contrary, these essays provide a firsthand demonstration which allows us to see how people from a myriad of professions and backgrounds are taking action to make our cities better places.
The essays, consisting of works ranging from Jacobsian-inspired speeches to stories of self-realization and actualization to imagined conversations with Jane, are masterfully grouped into six distinct, yet connected sections.
From the first moment when the authors begin to discuss The Vitality of the Neighborhood (Section One) to the final thoughts on Economic Instincts (Section Six); the words and - more importantly - the actions of the authors inspire the reader to truly examine and see the urban organism through not only new lenses, but to return to the lenses which allow us to see what we take for granted through "fresh eyes."
As we try and see the city, we are reminded to examine our Virtues of Seeing (Section Two) so that we may observe the urban organism through a variety of lenses; allowing us to truly see how our Cities, Villages and Streets (Section Three) evolve and thrive. It is through these lenses that we are inspired to make our streets, our neighborhoods, our cities and ultimately our society better places.
These lenses also provide us with insight into the tumultuous relationship between restrictive, dogmatic planning policies and the practices, or for lack of a better term, the notions of Serendipitous Planning (Section Four) that allows for the natural and organic development of neighborhoods and cities Designed For Nature and Designed For People (Section Five).
Because in reality, as many of the officials of struggling American metropolises will certainly tell you, a city is useless without people who are active participants in the evolution and development of the living urban organism.
The stories contained within the pages of What We See allow us to not only examine how our cities and neighborhoods are developing and changing, but the actions of the authors provide the reader with the inspiration to begin to make a difference in their own neighborhood, city, region and life. I would challenge anyone to read this book and not feel the burning desire to initiate positive change within their own neighborhood, community or city.
What We See is an excellent companion to any of Jane Jacob's works. The essays within What We See capture Jane's incredible ability to observe and understand the city, neighborhood and region as a functioning and thriving organism in which design, character and people contribute to the overall vibrancy and life of the urban fabric.
The ideals which Jane lived by and conveyed throughout her life's work are fantastically captured in the actions of the authors of What We See. When we observe What We See as a whole, it is clear that it will quickly become a required addition to the library of any designer, planner, artist, activist, community organizer, urbanist or city dweller.--Michael Ouchakof"enVisionGreen" (05/05/2010)
What We See is notable for the breadth of its contributors. Besides the predictable collection of architects, planners and politicians (not that there's anything wrong with them), perhaps the most interesting contributions are from people supposedly "outside her field" - the biologist, the youth minister, the playwright. Of course, the point is not much was outside Jacob's field, her lesson is not to search for the predictable but to see what is.--Dr. Orloff "Museum of the City.org "
My blogs of late have told stories of walkability and overcoming complexity - ingredients of the safe and vital neighborhood. There are more and I've been reading about them in a great new book: What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs (New Village Press, 2010).
I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction anthologies which, having authored a crime prevention anthology myself, is probably just evidence of my own inconsistency. Regardless, What We See is an exception to my rule. It is a fabulous read!--Gregory Saville"Safegrowth" (05/26/2010)
Advance Praise for What We See
"It's as if Jane Jacobs' bright eye hadn't dimmed, that she's
still startling us with her predictably unpredictable insights into
what needs to be done to protect and cultivate wondrous, live
cities. In the hands of this book's essay writers, new thoughts
sprout, all as true to Jane's spirit and inventive urbanity as the
gardens (intellectual and physical) she cultivated in her
--Neal Peirce, Chairman, The Citistates Group, journalist, and author of Boundary Crossers: Community Leadership for a Global Age
"In this new book are the testimonials of Jane's children. These
folks, in their writing and work, are building on what she began
back in the '60s. It's taken a long time, but it's happening."
- David Byrne, musician, artist, and author of Bicycle Diaries
"This book is a passionate celebration: a delicious
international and interdisciplinary banquet of offerings to honor
the passionate and multifaceted work of our beloved urbanist, Jane
--Wendy Sarkissian, PhD, author of Kitchen Table Sustainability and Creative Community Planning
This book, with such a wide range of contributors inspired by the small woman with the large mind, can help us understand our world better, and thus be better at changing it.--Alex Marshall"Regional Plan Association" (12/07/2010)
When Planetizen conducted a survey last year to identify the top urban thinkers of all time, the Number 1 spot on the list was captured by Jane Jacobs. Whether the choice was correct or not -- the poll's participants were disproportionately Americans -- Jacobs certainly remains an inspiration, four years after her death at age 89.--Philip Langdon"New Urban News" (08/16/2010)
"Just in its title, 'What We See' telegraphs the most
important point Jane Jacobs ever made--don't go into a city
environment with preset notions of how things are supposed to work;
instead, enter the space with as open a mind as you can muster and
seek to observe how things actually work. . . What We See
is a report back to Jane to tell her what we learned and how it has
changed our cities and our lives."
--Keith Bartholomew, Assistant Professor, College of Architecture and Planning, University of Utah, coauthor, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change
"I had never understood quite so clearly the effective power of
Jane Jacob's writing--no, her clear-headed observation--as I did
reading What We See. Maybe that's really the point of
writing. That if you take the time to look, to really observe, then
you see what is happening, and, with the clarity of that vision,
you can act to save neighborhoods."
--Nancy Milford, scholar, lecturer, and author of Zelda and Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.