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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Jane Jacobs

Champion of Cities, Champion of People

by Rebecca Pitts

Book cover for Jane Jacobs
Book cover for Jane Jacobs

The first YA biography of Jane Jacobs, the visionary activist, urbanist, and thinker who transformed the way we inhabit and develop our cities.

Shortlisted for the 2023 Goddard Riverside CBC Youth Book Prize for Social Justice

Jane Jacobs was born more than a hundred years ago, yet the ideas she popularized — about cities, about people, about creating a more equitable world — remain hugely relevant today. Rebecca Pitts paints a vivid picture of a headstrong and principled young girl who committed her life to building cities made for, and by, the people who live in them. Refusing the conventional wisdom of the time, Jacobs championed diversity, community, grassroots organizing, and “the life of the street” — and she never backed down, even when it meant going up against the most powerful man in New York, Robert Moses. Here is a story about standing up for what you know is right, including a playbook full of real-world takeaways for young activists.

Click here to check out the Jane Jacobs Reading Guide

Book cover for Jane Jacobs
Book cover for Jane Jacobs

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“Thank you, Rebecca Pitts. Each generation deserves their own Jane Jacobs biography, written in the rhythms and sensibilities of today's youth. When future urbanists now in school are asked where they first were introduced to the work and life of Jane Jacobs, I would not be surprised how many will credit Pitts' phenomenally researched and entertaining book.”

Jane Jacobs: Champion of Cities, Champion of People is the civics education I wish I had when I was a teenager. Pitts brings Jacobs's lessons on community organizing, civil disobedience, and city building to life with casual ease—all while not being afraid to question how Jane's ideas hold up today.”

“Here is an engaging and lively biography of icon Jane Jacobs, a journalist and community activist for city planning and renewal, who stopped legendary urban planner Robert Moses from building a number of NYC construction projects that would have destroyed communities. Born in 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jacobs was a rebel from a young age who lived for most of her adult life in the West Village. In this text, her biographer is aware of her flaws: Jacobs’ best-known book, the influential 1961 Death and Life of Great American Cities, made no mention of housing inequities and the redlining that many people of color faced due to the existing systemic racial discrimination, a fact that Pitts points to as a valid criticism. Jacobs also believed that communities of people “created a sense of shared safety,” but her privilege as a white woman blinded her to the systemic racism of the time. Still, she was widely impactful; she was arrested several times, the second time for allegedly inciting a riot at a public hearing. Pitts occasionally addresses readers directly in the text, which includes black-and-white photographs and uses invented dialogue (in italics) at times to move the narrative along. Jacobs was a remarkable woman, and her advocacy for community action and citizen participation is more valid today than ever. It's a view that will resonate with teen readers. — Sharon Rawlins”

REBECCA PITTS writes for and makes things with young people. She is a freelance writer who has published in the New York Times for KidsTeen VogueHighlights magazine, and elsewhere. She runs in-person and online workshops in the Lower Hudson Valley River Towns for young writers and artists, and is the founder and publishing advisor of The Little Newspaper Club.