Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People (Paperback)

Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People By Rebecca Pitts Cover Image
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(Child Biog)


The first biography of Jane Jacobs for young people, the visionary activist, urbanist, and thinker who transformed the way we inhabit and develop our cities.

Jane Jacobs was born more than a hundred years ago, yet the ideas she popularized—about cities, about people, about making a better world—remain hugely relevant today. Now, in Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People, we have the first biography for young people of the visionary activist, urbanist, and thinker.

Debut author Rebecca Pitts draws on archives and Jacobs’s own writings to paint a vivid picture of a headstrong and principled young girl who grew into one of the most important advocates of her time, and whose impact on the city of New York in particular can still be seen today. Jacobs went against the conventional wisdom of the time that said cities should be designed by so-called experts, “cleaned up,” and separated by use, arguing that such pie-in-the-sky visions paid very little attention to the wants and needs of people who actually live in cities. Jane instead championed diversity, community, “the life of the street,” and the power of grassroots movements to make cities better and more equitable for all. She never backed down, even when it meant going up against the most powerful man in New York, Robert Moses.

Here is a story of standing up for what you know is right, with real-world takeaways for young activists. Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People emphasizes how today’s teens can take inspiration from Jane’s own activism “playbook,” promoting change by focusing on local issues and community organizing.

About the Author

REBECCA PITTS writes for and makes things with young people. She is a freelance writer who has published in the New York Times for Kids, Teen Vogue, Highlights magazine, and elsewhere. She runs in-person and online workshops in the Lower Hudson Valley River Towns for young writers and artists, and is the founder and publishing advisor of The Little Newspaper Club.

Praise For…

“Here is an engaging and lively biography of icon Jane Jacobs, a journalist and community activist for city planning and renewal, who stopped legendary urban planner Robert Moses from building a number of NYC construction projects that would have destroyed communities. Born in 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jacobs was a rebel from a young age who lived for most of her adult life in the West Village. In this text, her biographer is aware of her flaws: Jacobs’ best-known book, the influential 1961 Death and Life of Great American Cities, made no mention of housing inequities and the redlining that many people of color faced due to the existing systemic racial discrimination, a fact that Pitts points to as a valid criticism. Jacobs also believed that communities of people “created a sense of shared safety,” but her privilege as a white woman blinded her to the systemic racism of the time. Still, she was widely impactful; she was arrested several times, the second time for allegedly inciting a riot at a public hearing. Pitts occasionally addresses readers directly in the text, which includes black-and-white photographs and uses invented dialogue (in italics) at times to move the narrative along. Jacobs was a remarkable woman, and her advocacy for community action and citizen participation is more valid today than ever. It's a view that will resonate with teen readers.” —Sharon Rawlins, Booklist (Starred Review)

"Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People is the civics education I wish I had when I was a teenager. Pitts brings Jacobs's lessons on community organizing, civil disobedience, and city building to life with casual ease—all while not being afraid to question how Jane's ideas hold up today." —Nathan Storring, co-editor of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs

"Thank you, Rebecca Pitts. Each generation deserves their own Jane Jacobs biography, written in the rhythms and sensibilities of today's youth. When future urbanists now in school are asked where they first were introduced to the work and life of Jane Jacobs, I would not be surprised how many will credit Pitts' phenomenally researched and entertaining book." —Barry Wittenstein, author of NCTE Orbis Pictus Award-winning A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

"New York City–based neighborhood organizer, urban visionary, and Vietnam War protester: Jacobs wore a lot of hats as a “public intellectual” in the mid-20th century, but she is perhaps best known today for opposing “slum clearance” and supporting neighborhoods. Pitts’ biography is smoothly written and engaging. She highlights Jacobs’ major campaigns and the strategies she promoted. She makes clear both the power of those Jacobs fought against (especially classist and racist developer Robert Moses) and the effectiveness of less powerful but determined people who banded together. The author occasionally uses invented dialogue or adapted quotations to smooth the storytelling in this conversational work that frequently addresses readers directly. Beginning with Jacobs’ Pennsylvania childhood in a “typical American upper-middle-class white Protestant suburban family in the 1920s,” it traces many of her remarkable achievements but notably is not uncritically laudatory. For example, Pitts describes Jacobs’ initial resistance to acknowledging the impact of racism, rejecting her editor’s request that she consider the role of race on Black city residents in her seminal 1961 publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities—although some years later, she did change her mind. Occasional black-and-white photos supplement the text; a greater number would have helped readers better envision many of the concepts and locations introduced. Overall, however, this is an engaging work that places a significant figure in historical context.An accessible introduction to a 20th-century icon."—Kirkus Reviews

"Pitts holds Jane Jacobs up to the light, exploring both her bright ideas and her darker shadows. This is an excellent, accessible biography that not only profiles a single woman, but reckons with greater systemic housing issues that will affect readers of this book as they grow up." —Gina Elbert, Children's Librarian, Dobbs Ferry Public Library

"How is a place built? Who gets to stay? Who gets pushed out? Jane Jacobs not only asked these questions, in public, but led community efforts to stop projects that would have bulldozed large sections of Downtown Manhattan, then immigrant neighborhoods considered worthless by developers and politicians. A must-read for teens who are interested in both placemaking and organizing for justice." —Lauren Ginsberg-DeVilbiss, Library Media Specialist at P.S. 28 The Wright Brothers School and 2023 Recipient of the American Library Association "I Love My Librarian" Award

"This book captures the spirit of Jane Jacobs and will appeal to every audience as a representation of what she took on and achieved. Jane argued that the entire planning world had taken a wrong turn and the latest trends in urban renewal were destructive to communities that were full of life and vitality. This book should be required reading in our public education curriculum." —Paddy Steinschneider, Chief Operations Officer, Congress for the New Urbanism, New York Chapter

Product Details
ISBN: 9781644212998
ISBN-10: 1644212994
Publisher: Triangle Square
Publication Date: October 31st, 2023
Pages: 288
Language: English