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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > JUNE 2016 > Urban legend

Urban legend

A century after her birth, Jane Jacobs’s writing is still influencing the way we look at cities
Jacobs in front of her first Toronto home, on Spadina Road, circa 1968
PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANK LENNON

A few years after Anne Collins joined Random House Canada, Jane Jacobs, the renowned urban thinker, embarked on what would become her final book, Dark Age Ahead. Early in her publishing career, Jacobs worked with legendary Random House editors Jason Epstein and David Ebershoff. But Collins felt Jacobs, a Toronto resident since the late 1960s, deserved a Canadian editor for her next project, which laid out her views on the deterioration of key social institutions. “I was determined that it would be a Canadian bestseller,” Collins says.

By then in her 80s, Jacobs – considered by many to be the single most influential urban writer, critic, and activist of the post-war era – walked with difficulty, and had taken to using an ear trumpet to compensate for hearing loss. But she’d lost none of her mental acuity, her curiosity, or her passion for ideas. As they worked on the manuscript, Collins would drop by Jacobs’s home in Toronto’s Annex and share a glass of Scotch as they talked. Jacobs, who had a strong sense of structure and produced pristine copy, didn’t require a lot of feedback. “She created worlds on the page and then tested them to see if they worked in reality,” Collins says.

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