Vital Little Plans | Penguin Random House Canada

Vital Little Plans

The Short Works of Jane Jacobs

Publisher: Random House Canada
A new book by influential urbanist Jane Jacobs, released in Jacobs' centenary, and showing her evolution as a writer and thinker.

Vital Little Plans
will bring together for the first time a selection of essays, articles, speeches and interviews by the late Jane Jacobs. These works shed light on the development of the ideas she made famous in her best-known works, The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities, while expanding upon familiar themes with new insights. Some works also explore topics rarely directly addressed in her major works, from skyscrapers to feminism to universal health care to gentrification. Readers will find classics like her breakout article "Downtown Is for People" and a host of previously unpublished or obscure articles, speeches, and lectures that follow her entire career, from her early journalistic investigations into the specialty industries of New York City and the neighbourhoods that harboured them, to her critiques of the urban renewal regime, to her iconoclastic takes on economics, separatism, regulation, and the environment. Most importantly, it will reveal Jacobs as she herself wished to be understood: as a writer who tried to observe human life as closely as she could.
     The book showcases the rhythm of Jacobs' career. "A City Naturalist" collects articles from her early years in New York, where she honed her distinctive style and her interest in the commercial and everyday life of cities. "City Building" critiques contemporary architecture, city planning and urban renewal. In "How New Work Begins," she explores the economic foundations of flourishing city life, and the environmental and political implications of city growth. "The Ecology of Cities" weaves ethics, government regulation and social justice into her system of thought, and gives her integrated approach a name: "the ecology of cities." In "The Unfinished Business of Jane Jacobs," she revisits ideas from throughout her career in the context of current challenges, and turns her gaze to the uncertain future of human life.


In contemporary urbanism, Jacobs is understood as the champion of local colour: her name and big black glasses connote the small-scale and the bottom-up, charming old buildings and protest signs against urban expressways. Her observation of ‘the ballet of the good city sidewalk’ in Greenwich Village, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), did much to stop the theories and bulldozers of twentieth-century urban renewal. Her activism . . . helped stop the construction of expressways that would have gutted vital urban neighbourhoods. In Toronto, she helped reinforce the political and planning culture that kept downtown Toronto a vital and prosperous place. . . . Vital Little Plans [is] a wonderful new anthology that captures her confident prose and her empathetic, patient eye for the way humans live and work together. . . . [A]s the anthology traces the seven decades of her career as a thinker and writer, she . . . mov[es] from the fabric of the city to ‘the nature of economies.’” The Globe and Mail

 “[S]erves as [a] timely reminde[r] of the clarity and originality of her thought.” —Edward Keenan, author of Some Great Idea, Toronto Star

“[A] . . . comprehensive portrait of the writer who changed how we think about cities.” —News from Brown (Brown University)

“[A] compilation of her short works that introduces not only her assured and muscular style but also her passion for both the systemic and the granular.” The New York Times

“A collection of short pieces by an outspoken champion of urban diversity. . . . [The] informative introduction to the volume and to each of the sections provides an illuminating context for the arc of Jacobs’s career and the issues faced by her native and adopted cities, New York and Toronto. . . . A timely volume that supports Jacobs’s aim to ‘stir up some independent thinking urgently needed as a wake-up call for America.’ A perfect complement to Robert Kanigel’s excellent biography, Eyes on the Street.” Kirkus Reviews

“An essential read for those wanting to understand the contradiction and chaos of a woman whose legacy is that we must all think for ourselves. We are lucky, with this volume, to witness her voice transforming and her ideas taking shape. The editors have brilliantly selected and sequenced her writing so that we can plainly see how she wrestles with, and problem solves around, messy and complex systems. Many of us have only scratched the surface with Jacobs, ending our love affair with her work at a time when she’d just begun to connect the dots. Reading through the entire pilgrimage makes the calls to action more vivid and more urgent than ever before. We are co-travelers and co-conspirators in the work, finding ourselves immersed deeply in the provocations that turn orthodoxy upside down. Bear witness to the intensely imaginative and uplifting story of people who could and people who should.” —Denise Pinto, Executive Director, Jane’s Walk

“We seem to be facing a perfect storm. The population of cities will double to 7 billion in just thirty-five years while we endure climate change, traffic congestion, a public health crisis, and a population set to double over age sixty-five and quadruple past age eighty. These are challenges, but we can also see them as opportunities. The world clearly needs more Jane Jacobs. In Vital Little Plans, she provides vision and action to create cities for people, especially those most vulnerable: children, older adults, and the poor.” —Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, Founder and Chair of 8 80 Cities, Chair of World Urban Parks

“This indispensable anthology is a delight. Through older works and new writings, the urgency of Jane Jacobs’s message continues to ring clear. This book further exposes us to Jacobs’s unconventional, process-oriented thinking, and positions us to take action to transform our cities. There is a better world around us, if we are willing to see it. Vital Little Plans is simply superb.” —Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner, Toronto
“Reading Jane Jacobs’s short works again tells us what a visionary and creative thinker she was. Her words are as fresh today as when she wrote them and speak to us by telling compelling stories. There is, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, ‘no virtue in meek conformity.’ This collection is a treasure for us all.” —Janice Gross Stein, professor, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

Vital Little Plans is a generously annotated and beautifully curated celebration of Jane Jacobs’s life and work. Readers will find both shining jewels and marvelous curiosities here. Most importantly, they’ll find new evidence of Jacobs’s depth, integrity, and indomitable spirit. A must-read for anyone interested in cities, systems, and societies.” —Colin Ellard, author of Places of the Heart and You Are Here

Vital Little Plans lays out Jane Jacobs’s evolution as an intellectual, from her early reportage on the sidewalks of New York, to her wide-ranging theories on cities and human economies. Her eye for details, for the small things that matter, was always there. It takes an anthology like this to capture the breadth of her work. Jacobs had no time for orthodoxy and wasn’t afraid to change her views, many of which will surprise her fans, critics, and everyone who thinks they know what Jane Jacobs thought, and what she would have done.” —Shawn Micallef, author, columnist, Spacing editor 

“We know Jane Jacobs wrote brilliant books, and it would be a crime to let her equally brilliant smaller writings, speeches and interviews be lost. This collection is more than the sum of its parts, and is a great book to have at your fingertips.” —Brent Toderian, city planner & urbanist, TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, and former Vancouver chief planner

“In these stirring pages, Jane Jacobs shows herself once more to have been the keenest observer of the urban condition. Her vision of people-focused cities that are places, and not merely spaces, remains both prescient and relevant for planners, policy makers and ordinary people today.” —Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates, former NYC transportation commissioner

“This wonderful volume opens the door to the vital world of Jane Jacobs, in which we are challenged to bring complexity and intimacy into harmony with one another. A book to get your blood running and ideas soaring!” —Mindy Thompson Fullilove, author of Urban Alchemy

“Oh no! I picked up this book to blurb it—thought I could just skim it and dash something off—but Jane has got me hooked again. I’m too busy reading to tell you why this collection is Jacobs at her best, but it is. Don’t cheat yourself of the pleasure that lies between these covers.” —Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

“This remarkable compendium of Jane Jacobs’s writing covers a period which begins long before the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961 and ends long after. Following the thread we see how piece by piece she expanded her range into the next ring of connected ideas, periodically consolidating them in a book or an article, edging ever closer to a kind of unified theory linking ecology, economy, ethics and social mores and their manifestations in real places. Like her fundamental observation about the city itself, her work was never finished.” —Ken Greenberg, Urban Designer and author of Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder   

“This might be the very best of Jane Jacobs’s books. The articles and speeches collected here are terrific summaries of her thoughts about the marvelous complexities of cities and how we might respond to city challenges to our best advantage.” —John Sewell, former mayor of Toronto

“It’s one thing to bring important ideas to the world; quite another to do it with such wit and subtlety. This volume reminds us what a sheer, crackling great writer Jane Jacobs was.” —James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere

“Jane Jacobs saw the city like no other, and her observational genius, practical wisdom, and moral courage are on full display here, making this brilliantly curated book essential reading. With our cities facing unprecedented sustainability and affordability challenges, we need to listen to Jacobs more than ever.” —Matthew DesmondNew York Times bestselling author of Evicted

Vital Little Plans is an immensely important retrospective of Jane Jacobs’s articles and speeches. Her belief in the power of residents to make cities economically, environmentally, and socially successful shines through, as does her disdain for those who would build cities for cars, not people.” —David Miller, President & CEO of WWF-Canada and Mayor of Toronto from 2003 to 2010


“[Jane Jacobs] has a wonderful voice; she writes with terrific energy and wit, and can make almost anything clear.” —Toronto Star

“[S]he upended our understanding of not just cities, but economies, ethics and politics. In scrambling expectations, she became one of those rare public intellectuals who finds readers and acolytes everywhere, capturing imaginations at both ends of the political spectrum, inspiring community organizers and libertarians alike.” —Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail

“[An] urban visionary.” —Eyes on the Street

“Jacobs’s great success is the way the conversation she starts must surely develop, in that unpredictable way she sees everywhere, far beyond the final page.” —Maclean’s
“Jane Jacobs has become more than a person. She is an adjective.” —Toronto Life

 “Jane Jacobs’s observations about the way cities work and don’t work revolutionized the urban planning profession. Thanks to Jacobs, ideas once considered lunatic, such as mixed-use development, short blocks, and dense concentrations of people working and living downtown, are now taken for granted.” —The Globe and Mail

“Throughout her life, she kept . . . the journalist’s habit of letting a broad and brilliant view do the work of patient statistical investigation. Though an ambitious theorizer, she is at her best as an observer: she leaps plenty, but she looks first. . . . When we recognize these unspectacular small-city moments of tolerance and entanglement as one of the best reasons to live in cities, we are, consciously or not, paying homage to Jane Jacobs, living within a world of value she helped name. That is no small thing to accomplish.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

“Jacobs has proved herself to be nothing if not fearless in the face of authority. . . . Invariably, the problems she tackles are almost ridiculously sweeping. Yet her home-grown prescriptions never are.” —The New York Times
“An intellectual legatee of Benjamin Franklin, a genius of common sense.” —The New York Review of Books