Saturday, March 14

Joel Salatin, Jane Jacobs

From: flickr user Wendy Cohen
I went to hear farmer and prominent local foods advocate Joel Salatin speak this evening. A strong libertarian and proponent of traditional farming practices, Salatin naturally did not have many kind things to say about the industrial food system. In his words, modern agribusiness has been made opaque, "put just over the hill, where we don't have to see it." It's zoned out of our lives. This leads to a disconnect between producer and consumer, and compromises the inherent business accountability of a community - an accountability that must somehow be made up for with a complex regulatory system.

According to Salatin, small-scale traditional farms can be "beautiful, aromatic, and romantic," somewhere that kindergartners would want to go on a field trip. Unlike a massive "Tyson's poultry processing plant," this is one form of agribusiness that does not have to be relegated to a far away location. It's existence can even enhance the living environment, even if some small-scale processing functions are allowed to happen on-grounds. This is at least one form of industry that we might not mind having in our backyards.

It struck me that this self-professed Jeffersonian agrarian was sounding so much like the quintessential urbanist, Jane Jacobs. In Death and Life of Great American Cities, she wrote,

"A restaurant or snack place, a grocery, a cabinetmaker, a printer's shop, for instance, can fit well into such a street. But exactly the same kind of use - say, a big cafeteria, a supermarket, a large woodworking factory or a printing plant - and wreak visual havoc (and sometimes auditory havoc), because it is on a different scale."

Both Jacobs and Salatin love the diversity of small-scale systems. Salatin works with the biodiversity of his farm to fit the interlocking pieces together into a mutually-reinforcing whole. Jacobs loved the daily "ballet" that occurred in her Greenwich Village neighborhood, with all of the homes, shops, public street life, and workplaces fitting together into a coherent whole.

Even industry, the classic case for separate-use zoning, need not be categorically separated on all occasions.


Stephen Smith said...

I agree with the sentiment, but it would be nice to hear some kind of justification

Benjamin Hemric said...

Although I suspect I agree with at least some of your sentiments regarding Jane Jacobs, I cringe when I hear reference made, over and over again, to the same few passages of "Death and Life" -- which is only the first of her SEVEN books. And this is especially true in this case (see more below).

One would think that Jacobs died -- at least intellectually -- in 1961, when in fact she lived until 2006 (?)and wrote six more books, all of them essentially on the same themes. (The last one published in 2004[?])

I think such passages as those that have been cited from "Death and Life," have been GREATLY over emphasized, and it results in a distortion of what Jacobs was "really" (obviously, in my opinion) writing about. People mistakenly begin to think that Jacobs was against ALL "big" things (which is ironic since "Death and Life" is about big cities), against ALL "large scale" enterprises, etc. It makes her sound like a lover of the quaint and the cute, and a modern day Luddite -- and nothing could be further from the truth!

What is particularly disappointing in this case is that in a number of her other works (and speeches, etc.) Jane Jacobs, herself, has actually had quite a bit to say about the very kind of things that you (Daniel) and Joe Salatin are discussing.

Off hand, I would especially recommend the following:

The Economy of Cities;

Cities and the Wealth of Nations;

The Nature of Economies; and

Dark Age Ahead.

-- Benjamin Hemric

CarFree Stupidity said...

Funny you should bring up Jane Jacobs, I used a quote from that same book today for my blog. Small world.

Daniel Nairn said...

Benjamin, guilty as charged. I'm one of those "Jacobs fans" who has only read Death an Life (but at least I've carefully read the full thing). I would love to have time to read more, but seven is daunting to me. Do you have a recommendation for a good second step? Would you say that her viewpoint changed significantly from her first book?

Benjamin Hemric said...

Daniel wrote

I would love to have time to read more, but seven is daunting to me. Do you have a recommendation for a good second step?

Benjamin writes:

Although Jacobs' thoughts on the topics discussed in your original post, "Joel Salatin, Jane Jacobs," seem to me to be scattered amongst her six other books, my guess is that "the Nature of Economies" (2000) would be a very good second step. It seems to me to be most directly related to the topics raised in your original post; and, for those who are pressed for time, the book is relatively short. My paperback edition of the book is 150 pages; the often fascinating end notes are an additional 26 pages. (The book is written in the form of a "Socratic diaglogue" -- kind of like a short story where the characters do a lot of talking. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this format; but it seems a lot of other readers were put off by it.)

Plus, hopefully, "The Nature of Economies" will then whet your appetite for her other books, especially the "Economy of Cities." (However, I think you would also enjoy all of her other books, too -- even those having ostensible topics, e.g., separatism, that you might not think will interest you. I know that was true for me.)

- - - - - - - - -

Daniel wrote:

Would you say that her viewpoint changed significantly from her first book?

Benjamin writes:

In terms of major themes, I think her viewpoint remained AMAZINGLY consistent throughout her seven books. (In my opinion, though, some of "the Nature of Economies" seems to me to contradict some relatively minor points of "Death and Life" -- although I don't know if Jacobs herself would agree.)

One thing that I found amazing in terms of consistency of viewpoint is that towards the end of "Death and Life" (1961) -- or is it "the Economy of Cities" (1969)? -- there are even some paragraphs that read almost like an introduction to "the Nature of Economies," which Jacobs would actually write 39 or 31 years later (in 2000)!

- - - - - -

Daniel wrote:

Benjamin, guilty as charged. I’m one of those “Jacobs fans” who has only read “Death and Life” (but at least I’ve carefully read the full thing).

Benjamin writes:

It’s amazing (and disheartening) how few fans have read more than “Death and Life.” For example, I attended an impromptu memorial celebration at the White Horse Tavern shortly after Jacobs died and none of the 5 to 10 people I asked had read more than “Death and Life.” So you’re not alone. And as you point out, at least you’ve carefully read the full thing – while I suspect that many others who claim to have read Jacobs have really read only four or five chapters – if even that.

And, of course, everyone is entitled to one’s own interests, enthusiasms and beliefs. So people have no obligation to read Jacobs’ entire oeuvre.

But the main thing is that I think it is important for people to realize (especially if they are talking about Jacobs) that she wasn’t just writing about (supposedly) quaint, small-scaled Greenwich Village (and that's true even in "Death and Life"). Furthermore, my thesis is that people are unlikely to understand what “Death and Life” is really about unless they have also read some of Jacobs’ other books too (especially “The Nature of Economies” and “The Economy of Cities).

(Plus, her books are such "fun" reads -- or at least they seem so to me.)

Anonymous said...

To confirm Benjamin about Jacobs and big cities and small cities, I'll quote her: "But I hope no reader will try to transfer my observations into guides as to what goes on in towns, suburbs that are still suburban. Towns, suburbs and even little cities are totally different organisms from great cities.... To try to understand towns in terms of big cities will only compound confusion." (Jacobs, 1961. p. 61)