As I grew up in America, I came more to the realization that something wasn’t quite right. My family seemed to keep moving to neighborhoods that made me feel more and more isolated (figuratively and literally). Fewer neighborhood stores to stop at while walking home from school (even when I could walk to school), fewer sidewalks, more parking lots, and more time being chauffeured by my parents.
I couldn’t quite put a finger on my gut feelings but somehow must have been expressing them because a friend from college gave me an old paperback copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities to read. Jane Jacobs’ discussion of what is now called “mixed-use development” (which she advocated as an organic growth rather than as a contrived planned community) helped focus my discontent and eventually got me interested in other stimulating works in the same vein. These include The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of urban planner Robert Moses (Jacobs’ arch-nemesis), as well as edgier works, like William Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere. Jacobs’ ideas, while unfortunately mostly still ignored nearly fifty years later, continue to influence the enlightened.