Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities (Neither of Which is in Europe)

Here's a fantastic clip of Jane Jacobs talking about urban planning and development in Toronto and Montreal in the late 1960s:

Video I found within this post on Spacing Montreal

Ms. Jacobs, as many of you know, was a pre-eminent - though not professionally trained - urban theorist who emigrated from America shortly before the CBC clip (above) was filmed. She's something of a legend in these parts.

It's fascinating to watch her discuss two of the cities I know best in the world, one of which I've lived in for 35 years (since shortly after most of this footage was shot), and to hear her perspective on the grass-roots genius that pervaded Toronto even back when it was very Good. Nonetheless (and just like now!), the city's official stance was to "stamp out fun". Montreal has never had that problem, apparently.

Montreal, according to Ms. Jacobs, managed to preserve while expanding, by allowing the old to coexist with the new, i.e. to avoid slum clearance - which never appears to improve the quality of life for those from whom the slums have been cleared. (The footage cites a number of locations.) Intriguingly, the author of the referential post on Spacing Montreal - Alanah Heffez - does not agree, as she discusses in her piece.

I thrill at recognizing landmarks captured on film before I was born. And I'm hardcore impressed to hear this woman, passionate about what the structure of cities says about how those cities are and how they will be, veritably intuit the outcome of mid-century urban design. She was immersed in the construct of "the city" - and in her own community - and yet she saw it from an elevated vantage point.

She did not shy away from the expression of her many, well-considered opinions at a time when many women were not allowed to have them. She's not shocking, not guarded, not limited by the disinterest of modern media. She addresses a highly political issue - the financial disenfranchisement of the French Canadians in Montreal during the last century - even offering up her own stance on the subject, without throwing herself into the fray.

You should watch this - even if you don't care about cities, urban planning, dead legends or cool b/w footage. I think it will compel you.


  1. Love it!

    My opinion is suspect however; I've entertained expat fantasies since the early eighties.

    Still talking about it :-).

  2. Susan: Aren't Californians secret expats :-)