Yes, I am that person who has a WWJJD magnet on the fridge: What Would Jane Jacobs Do? So of course, when I learned of Susan Hughes’ new illustrated children’s book about Jacobs, Walking in the City (Illus. Valérie Boivin, 2018), I sought out a copy.
The bulk of the story is set in New York City and it begins when she is a young woman: “Jane loved her hometown, but this city was huge and exciting. Day after day, Jane looked for work, but she also enjoyed getting off the subway at different stops and exploring whatever neighbourhood she found.”
She appears to have a very ordinary life, perhaps being more curious than the average person but not extraordinary in any obvious way. Nonetheless, her beliefs and convictions soon set her apart: “’Healthy cities need a mix of buildings that are used for different activities and filled with different types of people,’ explained Jane” to her future husband, Bob.
The conflict she faced is clearly presented, as when Robert Moses, angered by protests about expressway going through the city in NYC, declared: “There is nobody against this…NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY but a bunch of … a bunch of MOTHERS!”
Time moves quickly but subtly across page-spreads. Jacobs wears different style of eyeglasses and more practical clothing, the only buildings with sharp corners and uniform shapes are highrises, and Jacobs’ gentle smile manages to be thoughtful even though these seem to be more like colourful sketches than sophisticated drawings, work is in inviting rather than showy, which certainly suits its subject.