Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs

Edited by Nate Storring & Sandy Zipp

Vital Little Plans brings together for the first time a career-spanning selection of essays, articles, speeches and interviews by the great urban thinker Jane Jacobs.

The writings range from her earliest reporting on New York's streets in the 1930s to selections from her two unfinished books in the 2000s. Some pieces shed new light on her ideas about cities, economics and ethics that make up her well-known books, like The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of CitiesOthers explore topics rarely addressed directly in her major works, from skyscrapers to feminism to universal health care to gentrification. Most importantly, Vital Little Plans reveals Jacobs as she herself wished to be understood: as a writer who tried to observe human life as closely as she could.

The book includes introductions and annotations that provide historical and biographical context, and connect the dots within Jacobs' ecology of ideas.

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Praise

"This trove of short pieces works beautifully…The editors’ introduction is a feast of details and insights. One learns not only about Jacobs and where she stood vis-a-vis this or that critique of her own work, but also about the contexts (cities, the natural world) within which her contributions played out—something that traditional economists did not do."

Saskia Sassen
The Times Literary Supplement

"Editors Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring have done readers a great service. They’ve brought together the best of this brilliant autodidact’s compelling arguments for why planners and designers must never forget the importance of small-scale diversity given it results in interesting cities created, first and foremost, for people."

Jared Green
The Dirt

"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
and author of The Shape of the City

"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

“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

“Oh no! I picked up this book to blurb it—thought I could just skim it and dash something off—but Jacobs 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

“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

 

“[Vital Little Plans] comes to the foreground for [Jane Jacobs’s] centennial, and in a time when more of Jacobs’s prescient wisdom is needed.”

Estefania Acosta de La Peña
& Misha Volf

Metropolis

“[A timely reminder] of the clarity and originality of [Jane Jacobs’s] thought.”

Edward Keenan
The Toronto Star

“[Jane Jacobs] was one of three people I have met in a lifetime of meeting people who had an aura of sainthood about them. . . . The ability to radiate certainty without condescension, to be both very sure and very simple, is a potent one, and witnessing it in life explains a lot in history that might otherwise be inexplicable—for instance, how a sixteen-year-old girl could lead the French Army to victory. Jane Jacobs’s aura was so powerful that it made her, precisely, the St. Joan of the small scale. Her name still summons an entire city vision.”

Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker

"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 Desmond
New York Times bestselling author of Evicted

"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, her critics, and all those who think they know what Jane Jacobs thought and what she would have done."

Shawn Micallef
Author, columnist, and editor of Spacing

"A book to get your blood running and ideas soaring!”

Mindy Thompson Fullilove
Author of Urban Alchemy

“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.”

Denise Pinto
Executive director, Jane’s Walk