kottke.org posts about darkageahead

Dark Age AheadJun 03 2004

Dark Age Ahead

Some running notes:

What I find most useful about reading Jacobs is how well her arguments scale. They're scale-free arguments. Through her discussion of large cities in The Death and Life of Great American Cities and of entire civilizations in this book, you can see instantly how the problems and solutions she examines could be used to describe smaller entities like towns, families, large corporations, project teams, blogospheres, online communities, etc.

Dark Age Ahead is ultimately another in the this-world-is-going-to-hell genre of media, but Jacobs makes it seem OK somehow. Maybe it's because she's really concerned about it and not selling fear like everyone else?

Several mentions of Canada and Toronto (Jacobs' current place of residence) in the book so far. I wonder about generalizations being made about specific situations in Toronto; something to keep in mind.

Jane Jacobs hates cars. Absolutely can't stand them. I thought this book was about a possible coming dark age, not her dislike of automobiles.

As I'm reading, I'm flipping back to the endnotes. Many of her sources are either the Toronto Star or private conversations she's had with people. One gets the mental picture of an elderly woman sitting at her breakfast table, reading the newspaper to guests, and getting so worked up about it all that she writes a book about the coming dark age.

Best chapter is Dumbed Down Taxes, about how the collection and distribution of funds by the government has become disconnected with the needs of people. Jacobs makes the excellent point that maybe the rules and structure we came up with for governing the county 200 years ago isn't necessarily the best way to go about it now and should be reexamined. Why is New York City part of a state? Does it benefit the state or the city in any way? And what about states? Do they still make sense? (And don't even get me started on the electoral college.)

Before I bought this book, I looked it up on Amazon and read a review by Dr. J. E. Robinson called The Title and Book Jacket Do Not Match the Text Inside (you'll have to scroll for the review...Amazon annoyingly doesn't permalink individual reviews). When I first read the review (2/5 stars), I thought it unfair. Now having finished the book, I still think the review was largely unfair, but Dr. Robinson does have a point. In trying to make her points (which, when she stated them in chapter 1, I thought were excellent), Jacobs is all over the place and seldom manages to clearly support her arguments. Not that the examples she cites aren't eventually relevant (after all, a dark age pretty much affects everything in a culture), but they don't go directly to her main points. I would have loved more focus.

Doing a lot of complaining, but really, there lots of excellent stuff here. The individual stories and passages contained in the book would have made a great series of magazine articles or a fantastic weblog.

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