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A timely revisitation of renowned urbanist-activist Jane Jacobs' lifework, What We See invites thirty pundits and practitioners across fields to refresh Jacobs' economic, social and urban planning theories for the present day. Combining personal and professional observations with meditations on Jacobs' insights, essayists bring their diverse experience to bear to sketch the blueprints for the living city.

The book models itself after Jacobs' collaborative approach to city and community building, asking community members and niche specialists to share their knowledge with a broader community, to work together toward a common goal of building the 21st-century city.

The resulting collection of original essays expounds and expands Jacobs' ideas on the qualities of a vibrant, robust urban area. It offers the generalist, the activist, and the urban planner practical examples of the benefits of planning that encourages community participation, pedestrianism, diversity, environmental responsibility, and self-sufficiency.

Bob Sirman, director of the Canada Council for the Arts, describes how built form should be an embodiment of a community narrative. Daniel Kemmis, former Mayor of Missoula, shares an imagined dialog with Jacobs, discussing the delicate interconnection between cities and their surrounding rural areas. And Roberta Brandes Gratz—urban critic, author, and former head of Public Policy of the New York State Preservation League—asserts the importance of architectural preservation to environmentally sound urban planning practices.

What We See asks us all to join the conversation about next steps for shaping socially just, environmentally friendly, and economically prosperous urban communities.


Title What We See
Subtitle Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs
Publisher New Village Press
Audience 01 General / trade
Credit New Village Press
Title First Published 01 May 2010
Subject Scheme Identifier Code      93 Thema subject category: JP      93 Thema subject category: JB
Includes Index; Appendices


Foreword: Michael Sorkin, Jane's Spectacles
Introduction: Stephen Goldsmith and Lynne Elizabeth, Eyes Wide Open

Section 1: Vitality of the Neighborhood
1.1 Deanne Taylor, Between Utopias
1.2 Ray Suarez, Jane Jacobs and the "Battle for the Street"
1.3 Sanford Ikeda, The Mirage of the Efficient City
1.4 Nabeel Hamdi, The Intelligence of Informality
1.5 Nan Ellin, The Tao of Urbanism: Integrating Observation with Action

Section 2: The Virtues of Seeing
2.1 Arlene Goldbard, Nine Ways of Looking at Ourselves (Looking at Cities)
2.2 Mindy Thompson Fullilove, The Logic of Small Pieces: A Story in Three Ballets
2.3 Alexie M. Torres-Fleming, Of Things Seen and Unseen
2.4 Rob Cowan, The Fine Arts of Seeing: Professions, Places, Arts, and Urban Design

Section 3: Cities, Villages, Streets
3.1 Daniel Kemmis, Cities and the Wealth of Places
3.2 Elizabeth Macdonald and Allan Jacobs, Queen Street
3.3 Kenneth Greenberg, The Interconnectedness of Things
3.4 David Crombie, Jane Jacobs: The Toronto Experience
3.5 Matias Sendoa Echanove & Rahul Srivastava, The Village Inside

Section 4: The Organized Complexity Of Planning
4.1 James Stockard, The Obligation to Listen, Learn and Teach—Patiently
4.2 Robert Sirman, Built Form and the Metaphor of Storytelling
4.3 Chester Hartman, Steps Toward a Just Metropolis
4.4 Peter Zlonicky, Illuminating Germany: Observations on Urban Planning Policies in the Light of Jane Jacobs
4.5 Jaime Lerner, Reviving Cities

Section 5: Design for Nature, Design for People
5.1 Janine Benyus, Recognizing What Works: A Conscious Emulation of Life's Genius
5.2 Hillary Brown, "Codevelopment" as a Principle for Next Generation Infrastructure
5.3 Richard Register, Jane Jacobs Basics
5.4 Roberta Brandes Gratz, Jane Jacobs: Environmental Preservationist
5.5 Jan Gehl, For You Jane
5.6 Janette Sadik-Khan, Think of a City and What Comes to Mind? Its Streets
5.7 Clare Cooper Marcus, The Needs of Children in Contemporary Cities

Section 6: Economic Instinct
6.1 Saskia Sassen, When Places Have Deep Economic Histories
6.2 Susan Witt, The Grace of Import Replacement
6.3 Pierre Desrochers & Samuli Leppälä, Rethinking "Jacobs Spillovers," or How Diverse Cities Actually Make Individuals More Creative and Economically Successful
6.4 Ron Shiffman, Beyond Green Jobs: Seeking a New Paradigm

Epilogue: Mary Rowe, Jane's Cup of Tea

Study Guide

Additional Materials

Check out the interactive What We See website for more information

Check out the interactive What We See website for more information

Jane Jacobs Revisited: A Bellagio Conference Video

Video produced by Don Downey.


Village Connections
Jun 22, 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

Cite Magazine
Jul 8, 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.

- Allyn West, Cite Magazine

Urban Direction
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

The New Colonist
Jul 7, 2010
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.

- Eric Miller, The New Colonist

re:place Magazine
Jul 6, 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.

- Lisa Brideau, re:place Magazine

May 24, 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

By the Book
Dec 13, 2011
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

Publisher's Weekly
May 26, 2010
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

- Suzanne Mantell, Publisher's Weekly

Untapped Cities
Feb 8, 2013
Mary Rowe, one of the organizers of the conference told us, "It's a Jane Jacobs world now," and that we need to remember Jacobs was more about process, less about ideology. Says Rowe, Jacobs “was an early identifier of complexity, a supporter of organic design and diversities of all kinds, and believed everything was relational–nothing has a single cause. She had an extreme resistance to big, universal, grand one size fits all efforts from the public or private sector and believed physical, economic and ethical processes needed to interact to create the process of the city. Today there is a growing sense of what sustainable, organic, livable cities should be but there is a need to discuss the obstacles to that occurring.”

- Michelle Young, Untapped Cities

Visit the interactive What We See website for more information.

Midwest Book Review
Apr 6, 2011
Some people set the pace for the future of advancing thought. What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs is a collection of essays dedicated to the thoughts and ideas of Jane Jacobs who through her work set much of the foundation for modern city planning, the idea of turning a city into a more perfect place to work and live. With ideas on encouraging prosperity, working with people, the right level of complexity, and more, What We See is a must for anyone wants to understand the forwarding thoughts surrounding city planning.
- Midwest Book Review

Progressive Planning
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 read."
—Anthony Flint, author of Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City

May 5, 2010
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.

- Michael Ouchakof, enVisionGreen

Museum of the
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

May 26, 2010
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

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 lifetime."
—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 Jacobs."
—Wendy Sarkissian, PhD, author of Kitchen Table Sustainability and Creative Community Planning

Regional Plan Association
Dec 7, 2010
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

New Urban News
Aug 16, 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

"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.

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