In this indispensable book, urban visionary Jane Jacobs argues that as agrarianism gives way to a technology-based future, we’re at risk of cultural collapse. Jacobs—renowned author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities—pinpoints five pillars of our culture that are in serious decay: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation, and government; and the self-regulation of the learned professions. The corrosion of these pillars, Jacobs argues, is linked to societal ills such as environmental crisis, racism, and the growing gulf between rich and poor.
But this is a hopeful book as well as a warning. Drawing on a vast frame of reference—from fifteenth-century Chinese shipbuilding to Ireland’s cultural rebirth—Jacobs suggests how the cycles of decay can be arrested and our way of life renewed. Invigorating and accessible, Dark Age Ahead is not only the crowning achievement of Jane Jacobs’ career, but one of the most important works of our time.
Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities forever transformed the discipline of urban planning by concentrating on what actually helped cities work. Unencumbered by generations of fatuous theorizing, Jacobs proposed a model of action that has left a positive mark in neighborhoods all over the world. Her latest salvo, Dark Age Ahead, is, despite the pessimism of many of its conclusions, also positive, less a jeremiad than a firm but helpful reminder of just how much is at stake. Jacobs sees "ominous signs of decay" in five "pillars" of our culture: family, community, higher education, science and "self policing by the learned professions." Each is given a detailed treatment, with sympathetic but hard-headed real-world assessments that are often surprising and always provocative and well-expressed. Her chapter on the decline of the nuclear family completely avoids the moral hand-wringing of the kindergarten Cassandras to place the blame on an economy that has made the affordable home either an unattainable dream or a crippling debt. Her discussion of the havoc wrought by the lack of accountability seems ripped from any number of headlines, but her analysis of the larger effects sets it apart. A lifetime of unwasted experience in a number of fields has gone into this short but pungent book, and to ignore its sober warnings would be foolish indeed.