Longevity & Legacy Portraits 2015. The Urban Activist

Repeating my blog series from last December, I close out this year with a brief look at stories of “singular lives”. Stories of well-known and maybe lesser-known names in history, who had better odds on the promise of longevity and in some way, left a legacy tale.

For many in our times, one might say that living to see grandchildren and great grandchildren is their version of leaving a legacy. An owner of a family run business might say that they built their business to pass it on to their children as their legacy. Some with a purpose and a sense of social responsibility may establish a foundation or annual award to support and promote ongoing contributions to creating a better future for a cause.

As for other forms of legacy. Artists create. Scientists discover. Philosophers argue for reform. Often unwittingly, everyday people do great things that later on are recognized and this is where the promise of longevity makes its wider cast.

Longevity and Legacy. A portrait collection of narratives from yesterday, today and tomorrow. No doubt, you have your own stories of singular lives, those you know and those you have read about. For the satisfaction and mental stimulation I got from this last year, over the last four weeks of 2015, I’ll look at some singular lives that have popped out at me over the last year, beginning today with…

The Urban Activist.

Jane Jacobs, 89

jane-jacobs_Portrait2“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” The Death and Life of Great American Cities

This quote from her 1961 book certainly had to be an inspirational directive for those who activated the Age-Friendly cities movement through the WHO in 2007, which I have referenced several times in previous blog posts. And within the context of urban design and aging in cities, we can consider, as an extension from this Jacobs’ quote, the gerontologist Bernard Isaacs statement “Design for the young and you exclude the old. Design for the old and you include everyone.”

Returning to Jane Jacobs, activist may be one way to tag her, considering that it was her New York City arrest in 1968 at a rally protesting a long fought against plan to build an expressway through the city, which in part drove her (so to speak) to Toronto.

Those of us who lived in Toronto in the late 1960’s, early 70’s will remember the long fought battle over the building of the Spadina Expressway. Guess who was one of the voices in the lead, in support of cancelling that project?

Jacobs became a Canadian citizen in 1974 and in 1996 was awarded the Order of Canada for her contributions and thought leadership on urban planning. Her last book in 2004, Dark Age Ahead at first might sound gloomy but she also saw it as hopeful. It is a well-constructed intelligent read, which I would like to say, “thinks us through” our history and into our future breaking through the frayed edges of urban life.

Considering the way the world is going, with respect to global urbanization, environmental change and the co-related effect of aging demographics, it is just as significant now that we make lessons from the works of Jane Jacobs. She died in Toronto in 2006, just shy of her 90th birthday.

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