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What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs Hardcover – May 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Essential reading for serious scholars of Jacobs. --Tim Harford, FT.com/The Undercover Economist --Financial Times

Advance Praise for What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs:

“I had never understood quite so clearly the effective power of Jane Jacobs’ 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

“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 … to tell Jane 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, and coauthor, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change

Reviews for What We See

"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

"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--anointed, 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

"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."
—Michael Ouchakof, enVisionGreen

"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

"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

"Fascinating though these projects are, What We See cannot be breezed through. At times, the collection is weighed down with policy. Some readers might find the prose too dependent on jargon. And most of the essays assume the reader's familiarity with Jacobs’s books and biography. Still, if What We See requires, at times, a professional’s duty-bound doggedness, it rewards the general reader’s generosity. The best selections inspire a kind of covetousness, as they present projects or politics you might want for your own city, for your own family to use and enjoy."
—Allyn West, Cite Magazine

"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."
—Eric Miller, The New Colonist

"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."
—Lisa Brideau, re:place Magazine

"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

From the Inside Flap

Leading thinkers observe our world with a candor that honors Jane Jacobs' honest way of looking.
More than thirty notable minds from diverse fields offer timely, original essays that update the insights of urbanist-activist Jane Jacobs. Through an enlivening discussion of critical issues affecting our cities and economies, What We See combines fresh reflection on Jacobs' views with the unique personal and professional experience of each author.
Turning an eye to their own streets and concerns, contributing essayists explore the essential components of vibrant neighborhoods: interconnectivity, cultural and economic diversity, walkability, mixed-use design, civic participation, and environmental responsibility.
What We See carries on the brilliance and truthfulness of Jane Jacobs, who set twentieth century city planning on its head by observing that the best-informed adviser in matters of planning and policy is the community itself. Anyone seeking inspiration and common sense for bringing cities and their economies back from the edge will appreciate What We See. Its ideas prompt us all to join the conversation about next steps for shaping socially just, environmentally friendly, and economically prosperous communities.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: New Village Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098155931X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981559315
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on August 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a collection of essays based loosely on the work of Jane Jacobs (most known for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, although she wrote numerous other books). Many of the essays are quite unimpressive, stringing together clichés or telling me what I already knew.

However, a few are noteworthy. I was engaged by:

*Ray Suarez's overview of suburban sprawl. Suarez points out that parents often move to suburbia for the benefit of children, but in some ways this experiment has failed, as suburbs "required more adult oversight, not less ... scrubbing the environment of outsiders heightened stranger anxiety rather than alleviating it." (But I question the causal relationship Suarez draws; perhaps stranger anxiety has risen in city adn suburb alike).

*Robert Sirman's essay is one of the better examples of how Jacobs' views can be applied in unfamiliar contexts. Sirman helped expand a ballet school in Toronto; rather than turning the school inward, away from the street, Sirman sought to revitalize the street- for example by supporting a nearby restaurant's attempt to open an outdoor patio, on the grounds that it would provide "eyes on the street" and thus make it seem less deserted.

*Hillary Brown's discussion of how "mixed use" can be applied to unfamiliar contexts- not just putting apartments above shops, but also adding various types of infrastructure together (for example, a Dutch bridge that accommodates not only pedestrian and vehicle traffic, but tramlines and utilities).

*Clare Cooper Marcus's discussion of attempts to combine the advantages of cul-de-sacs with the advantages of grids.
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Format: Hardcover
"You can observe a lot just by looking" opined New York philosopher Yogi Berra. Starting with its title, this collection of essays again and again comes back to the source of Jane Jacobs genius - really seeing by looking around her without preconceptions, then thinking deeply about what she saw. Starting with her classic Death & Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs transformed urban thinking by building theories around the concrete, not the abstract.

For anyone wanting to understand Jacobs, What We See provides the varying insights of 30 writers into how she changed the world we live in. This book is a great complement to the recent books about her, Wrestling With Moses and Urban Visionary. The fact that the latter positive biography was unauthorized is a testimony to how Jacobs wanted to keep the spotlight on the world around us and not on her personally.

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 not much was outside Jacobs' field, her lesson is not to search for the predictable but to see what is.

The essays testify to Jane Jacobs' importance not only in the field of city planning (which she reshaped into perhaps city cultivation), but on the ground in the two cities where she spent her adult life - New York and Toronto.
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Format: Hardcover
What We See is a fascinating book about how the life and work of Jane Jacobs influenced the lives of so many people from different fields such as science, architecture and politics. There is a lot of information in this book. It should be read slowly to truly reflect and learn something from it. There is a study guide at the end of the book. The study guide questions should be at the end of every chapter. This would make the information easier to reflect on and remember.

My favorite contribution in this book is from Alexie Torres- Fleming. She is a youth minister who spearheaded efforts to make the Bronx a more better place to live. She worked with the youth of the Bronx to clean up the Bronx River, create new parks and return wildlife to the area. My other favorite contribution in this book is by James Stockard. He is a housing developer who writes about how Jane Jacobs taught him the importance of listening, learning and teaching in his work. Jane's influence is not only in North America. I love reading about how people live in places that I have never visited. Rob Cowan describes Liverpool as an excellent place to shop for Asian things. I hope I get a chance to shop there some day. I would love to see a Dharavi or slum in Mumbai just to see it looks like. I learned some new phrases and concepts like urban acupuncture and biomimicry. I had to read carefully to figure out how these ideas from urban planning and biology are in line with the work of Jane Jacobs. The authors of these contributions do a good job in explaining these ideas. My knowledge and curiosity of different places and things is greater just by reading this book.
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