Feedback 2014: Columbus Park and Jane Jacobs

The Walk Leaders and I have had some really nice feedback about the 10 Jane’s Walk tours we offered in Chicago this weekend.  Participants have started sending in their photos, and I’ll be posting some of them here.  I thought a great way to start was by posting a wonderful email a participant named Susan Messer sent to Julia Bachrach this morning.  It’s long, but it’s fun reading:

I was in your great tour of Columbus Park yesterday. Thanks so much. You are a great guide, and I will never see that park the same way again. I live in Oak Park and drive past/through frequently but never before understood what it was.

My husband and I were members of the Prairie Club for years and knew about Jensen but not his role in Columbus Park. Anyway, another intersection is that I published a novel in 2009, called Grand River and Joy, about Detroit in the 60s and the racial issues and in particular white flight to the suburbs.

In the course of researching, I learned about Jacobs and included her, by reference, in a scene in chapter 2, where members of the Detroit Council of Jewish Women are discussing the current state of things in their neighborhoods. It’s the 60s, their feminist consciousness has been awakened, and they want to have a role in whether they move their families. The men have always made the decisions in the past. Here’s an excerpt from that scene.

“Look,” Alva said. “Who really needs a recommendation? It’s inevitable. It’s the way it always goes. The people who have the means will move. Just as they have in the past; you included, Ruth, so we might as well face it. You think I’d stay in this place if I had a choice?”

“Who says it’s inevitable?” the woman in the green hat asked. Her voice was deep and slow and very old world. “It doesn’t have to be inevitable…   You ladies know Jane Jacobs?” she asked. “A very smart lady. Probably about your age.”

She looked at Ruth. “She writes books about cities.” She took a bite of the pecan coffee cake, chewing, swallowing, everyone watching its passage. “You know what she says? That cities should be messy places, full of people out on the streets. Like in New York. Children, shopkeepers, garbage collectors, women with baby carriages, old people on their front porches, all mixed in together. Skin colors. Languages. It makes a place alive. It makes it safe. People know each other. People talk to each other in cities like that, in lively places that aren’t torn up by expressways. People think she’s crazy, this Mrs. Jacobs. Maybe a little bit like this lady.” She gestured toward Myrna, two rows in front of her. “A challenger.” No one responded. She shrugged. “You want to move to the suburbs where people hide in their yards, thinking they saved themselves? Okay. So go. But remember,” she said, “keep your suitcases packed for the next move. Because if you’re afraid, that you can’t move away from.” She took another bite of cake and folded her arms over her broad chest. “Me? I’m staying.”

 

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