The one extant biography, Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, was published last year. (Here's a review by the Regional Plan Association's Alex Marshall and a review by architectural historian Peter Laurence.)
It will soon be supplemented by two scholarly books about her and her era. And someday a long-lost portrait of the urbanist by Robert Moses biographer Robert Caro should surface.
Jacobs and Moses
Caro's The Power Broker contained not a whit about Jacobs. Indeed, as co-curator Christopher Klemek points out in the book accompanying the new exhibit, Moses and Jacobs were hardly longtime adversaries and contemporary public figures only briefly. (Much of Moses's work came before Jacobs entered the public fray.) Moses comes up only six times in the index of Jacobs's 598-page The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Still, they were involved in a big fight over the Lower Manhattan Expressway and are often discussed as major figures representing different paths in the city's development.
In May, I observed that "The Power Broker, Robert Caro's monumental biography of Robert Moses, oddly omits any mention of Jane Jacobs, now thought of as Moses's polar opposite, and the successful citizen protest against Moses's 1950s attempt to run a highway through Washington Square Park."
Caro's contribution, cut
I got a response from Ina Caro, the author's wife and research assistant, via his lecture agent, who wrote, "Over 30 years ago, when she typed the original manuscript for The Power Broker, there was a wonderful chapter on Jane Jacobs--as good, she thought, as the one on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Unfortunately, when the book was handed in it was one million words long and had to be cut by a third -- 300,000 words. Entire chapters were cut. One on the Brooklyn Dodgers and Moses, one on the Port Authority, one on the city planning commission, one on the Verrazano Narrow Bridge and one on Jane Jacobs. She hopes those pages are still in storage and can be read someday when a library acquires Mr. Caro's papers."
In other words, Caro, no slouch at research, didn't ignore this angle.
(Was this generally known? His agent responded, "To the best of my knowledge no one has ever asked this question before and it has never been answered.")
That's a trove of material that should surface someday. Beyond the portrait of Jacobs, the chapter on the Dodgers should be especially interesting as well, given the enduring debate about whether Moses was responsible for the Dodgers' departure or, as scholars say, Moses merely reflected a consensus against public subsidies for sports facilities at that time.
Given that The Power Broker has been reprinted umpteen times, I'd love to see future editions add a bibliographical note briefly describing the missing chapters. That would relieve future readers from some measure of wonder.
More books coming
Klemek is revising his dissertation on urban renewal into a book. He's carved out several articles about Jacobs, including an intriguing piece about how Jacobs, whose ideas were seen as radical in the United States, was far closer to the mainstream in Canada, the U.K., and West Germany.
Also, scholar Laurence, whose research into the Rockefeller Foundation archives highlighted the foundation's significant support of scholarship regarding urbanism and Jacobs, is working on a book.