Two Giants

Two giants of the 20th century passed away last week. The more well known of the two was John Kenneth Galbraith, economic advisor to presidents from FDR to LBJ. An icon and popularizer of Keynesian economics and liberal politics, Galbraith was one of the few two-time winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, receiving the award in 1946 from Harry Truman and again in 2000 from Bill Clinton.

Less known but no less influential was urban critic Jane Jacobs, who passed away last Tuesday, April 25. Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities was one of the first challenges to the urban planning/urban “renewal” programs of the 1950s and 1960s. Jacobs argued that you can’t just blow up old buildings, build new ones from scratch, and expect to create desirable places to live (just ask anyone living in public housing). Healthy cities are dynamic, spontaneous, and humane, she said. Jacobs put her ideas into action by challenging master builder Robert Moses and defeating his plans for building an expressway through downtown Manhattan.

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