Jane Jacobs on building well-rounded economies

Jane Jacobs ideas on the growth, health, and development of cities went far beyond defining livable nieghbourhoods. She also worked on the economic theory of how cities become economic engines of their region. Not surprisingly, she believed that successful cities share an economic ecology that underpins their success. Several of her books deal wiith her ideas around cities and wealth generation.

In 1984, Jane Jacobs published an analysis of the strategy behind the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and why it has failed to build a thriving economy within its jurisdiction. (Many people familiar with the TVA may have been surprised to hear it characterized as a failure.) Jane uses the example of the TVA to clarify her theory about city economies, contrasting cities that develop economies that are diverse and symbiotic and eventually are able to produce much of what they require locally, with regions that rely on one or two major industries or resources but never become largely self-sufficient and become exporters themselves. As her main contrastimg example, Jane examines the development of Taiwan and Taipei, which was successful at establishing an 'import-replacement' economy. Jane believes what she defines as import-replacemnt as the only type of economy that can generate sustainable prosperity for its inhabitants and the surrounding region.

Jane attributes the failure of the TVA not to misguided intent or poor planning and execution, but to a failure of understanding how successful economies take root. Her essay was first published in the May 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, and it is followed by an exchange of letters to the editor between Jane and Allan G. Pulsipher, who was the Chief Economist of the Tennessee Valley Authority at the time.

Jane Jacobs: Why TVA Failed May 10, 1984

An exchange on TVA between Allan G. Pulsipher and Jane Jacobs Nov 8, 1984