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April 30, 2012

I was so pleased to come across this video recently on the website Grist—a nearly ten-minute film about creating healthy neighborhoods, narrated by the late, great urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs and produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I've read Jacobs before (she is best known for her classic tome The Death and Life of Great American Cities) but I've never heard her speak. Here, in her later years, she endearingly discusses the impact on automobiles on neighborhoods and our health; how to create dignified places where people will be proud to live (and how to do it affordably); and why cities should provide places for skateboarders "to do their weird skateboarding thing."

Urban writer and author Jane Jacobs
Urban writer and author Jane Jacobs

She also dispenses a few thoughtful nuggets of wisdom, including:

"I stay away from visions of the cities of the future. Any city at all that's worth learning from or considering has parts that work. And so what should we study? We should study parts that work and parts that people use. All hypotheses get tested in the real world. You don't have answers in advance, and one size doesn't fit all."

Later, she rallies people to make their vision happen:

"Don't think it can be done with wishful thinking or pretty words. Think how you can get examples done, and then don't hide them under a bushel. Trot them out, use them for public education, show what they mean."

For more wise and accessible insights, click on the video below:

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