Volume 93, Issue 91

Wednesday, March 22, 2000


U of T students sit for sweatshops

Cultural Caravan stops in atrium

Kissel in race for CASA director

Parents oppose Harris' new code of conduct

Jane Jacobs talks city business

New study to explain rising gas prices

Cab company makes switch to natural gas


Bass Ackwards

Caught on campus

Jane Jacobs talks city business

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

London area residents came out in full force Monday night to find out what a sprawling metropolis had in common with a killer virus.

Urban planning guru and celebrated author Jane Jacobs made her first visit to London to address a jam-packed Althouse College auditorium.

Reading from her latest book, The Nature of Economies, Jacobs delved into her theory of how urban centres expand the same way as organisms in nature. "I'm convinced that natural processes and economic processes are pretty much the same thing," she said. "I do think that by learning from nature, it is possible to understand how economies expand in a healthy way," she said.

As an example of how an economy should look to nature for sound advice, Jacobs cited an already satisfied house cat which would not eat despite being in a room full of mice. It was not always in a city's best interest to expand, she explained.

Jacobs, who spent over 30 years living in New York City's Greenwich Village, said her curiosity with big city life started at an early age. "I always was interested in cities. I used to – and this sounds so prissy, I almost hate to say it – I enjoyed going to the dentist in Scranton [Ohio] because it was downtown," she said.

Despite being American, Jacobs said her outrage at the Vietnam War and disdain at the thought of her sons being drafted, led her to consider a move north in 1968 – and a budding metropolis named Toronto seemed to fit the bill.

"They never arrested me in Toronto. That's part of [Canada's] civility," she said. "American cities were already hell-bent on ruining themselves. Toronto hadn't done that yet."

In a question and answer period led by Peter Desbarats, Western's former dean of journalism, Jacobs gave her view of London's latest safety initiative to install cameras in the downtown core. "I think that's very superficial. The cameras may make it harder, in certain places, to be wicked or cruel, but there's something wrong, other than an absence of cameras, if your downtown is unsafe," she said. "It may be that you don't have enough people living downtown."

Kul Bhatia, an economics professor at Western, said he commended Jacobs' clarity of ideas, sharp wit and sense of humour. However, some of her analogies to nature seemed unwarranted, Bhatia said. "I'm not sure comparing human beings in social settings versus animals in survivalist settings is the same thing."

London area environmental lawyer Shelley Kaufman said she admired Jacobs' ability to express herself on paper, as well as in person. "I was actually introduced to her about 10 years ago when I was a master's environmental student at York [University] and I've just kinda followed her ever since," she said.

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