the woman who loved cities

Kayak (Canada) - - FICTION FEATURE - Il­lus­trated by Michelle Simp­son • Writ­ten by Allyson Gul­liver

New York City, 1934

“Next stop, Christo­pher Street” the sub­way an­nouncer re­peated. Christo­pher Street. That had a nice ring to it, Jane thought. And it was a neigh­bour­hood she hadn’t ex­plored yet. It wasn’t so bad be­ing turned down for jobs in the big city if it meant she had part of her day free just to ram­ble. At 18, she had lots of time to find work, and be­sides — there was a whole city to dis­cover. As she walked up from un­der­ground into the sun­light, a huge grin spread over Jane’s face. All around her there were noises and smells . . . and she loved ev­ery bit of it. Shouts in Ital­ian and Ger­man mixed with English. A small fish mar­ket stood right be­side a shoe re­pair place, with book­stores, gro­cery stores, cafes and more all jum­bled to­gether. Peo­ple who looked like artists and writ­ers sat sip­ping cof­fee and hav­ing what Jane imag­ined were im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions. She grinned again. This was Green­wich Vil­lage, and to her, it was per­fect.

New York City, 1956

Some peo­ple shifted in their chairs, frown­ing at what the woman on the stage was say­ing. Oth­ers sat qui­etly, in­tent on ev­ery word Jane spoke. “City plan­ners and politi­cians want to wipe out these lively neigh­bour­hoods and put peo­ple in new apart­ment tow­ers where they’ll never see each other,” she said, her voice gain­ing power as she spoke. “Or, even worse, they want to tear down our com­mu­ni­ties and build huge high­ways to take peo­ple to new houses out­side the city.” “For shame!” the au­di­ence shouted. “They can’t do that!” “They say ‘Out with the old; in with the new,’” she con­tin­ued. “But in our old neigh­bour­hoods, like Green­wich Vil­lage, peo­ple watch out for each other. They meet each other

on the side­walks. Ev­ery­one is safer be­cause you have all those eyes on the street.” She paused and looked up. “The garbage col­lec­tors. The chil­dren walk­ing to school. Peo­ple do­ing their er­rands. It’s like a side­walk bal­let.”

Toronto, 1969

“Is ex­press­way one word or two?” Kevin asked his friend Rina. “Are you paint­ing the ban­ner or the signs?” Rina asked, a bit flus­tered. “I thought the other group was do­ing that. Any­way, it doesn’t mat­ter. Ex­press­way is two words.” A woman with white hair and thick glasses who’d wan­dered over spoke up. “Ac­tu­ally, I be­lieve it’s one word. At least, that’s what we put on our ban­ners in New York when the city wanted to build a big new high­way just like Toronto is try­ing to do here.” The younger pair looked sur­prised. “So you’re Amer­i­can?” “Yes,” the woman replied. “We moved here when the United States got in­volved in the war in Viet­nam. It was aw­ful and un­just. We op­posed it ev­ery way we could, but there was no way we were stay­ing to see our sons forced to fight. We loved Toronto right away. We live in the An­nex, and it re­minds me of Green­wich Vil­lage. There are stu­dents and work­ing peo­ple and fam­i­lies. I only have to walk a few blocks to buy fruit and veg­eta­bles. We thought it would be so peace­ful.” She laughed. “But as soon as we ar­rived, we dis­cov­ered city plan­ners

here were try­ing to do the same thing as in New York—force a big high­way right into the heart of the city. It would de­stroy it! Cities are for peo­ple, not cars.” Rina started rum­mag­ing through her back­pack. “You know, you’d love this book. It talks about all this stuff. It’s called The Life and Death of Great Amer­i­can Cities.” The woman smiled again. “Ac­tu­ally, it’s Death and Life. The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities.”

“Right, of course,” said Rina, fi­nally pulling the book out and rif­fling through the pages. “It talks about how walk­ing helps peo­ple meet each other and how cheap old build­ings are ac­tu­ally good be­cause peo­ple can af­ford to live in them. It’s by . . .” Her voice trailed off as she looked at the photo of the book’s au­thor and up at the older woman. “Jane Ja­cobs. Yes, that’s me,” the woman said. “Now, shall we get to work on killing this Spad­ina Ex­press­way idea?”

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