First-ever Observe Scranton Festival to Celebrate Jane Jacobs Legacy
President Joe Biden may be the most famous person to ever be born in Scranton, Pa., But late writer and town planner Jane Jacobs still gets his fair share of attention.
This spring, Jacobs admirers in Scranton and elsewhere are capitalizing on its hometown status by planning an almost week-long celebration of its life and legacy.
The citywide Observe Scranton Festival, intended to celebrate Scranton and Jacobs with in-person and online exhibits and events, will begin on May 4, which would have been Jacob’s 105.e birthday, until May 8.
“Join us for a week-long community festival celebrating Scranton through the eyes of Jane Jacobs, the iconic activist from her hometown,” organizers said announcing the first-ever event.
Planned by The center of the living city and the Scranton Fringe Festival, the celebration includes the launch of a new New Village Press book on Jacobs and Scranton titled Jane Jacobs’ First Town: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania, by Glenna Lang.
There will also be scholarly exhibits on urban design issues Jacobs wrote about, community conversations, readings of Jacobs’ work, bike rides, a “ StorySlam ” and three of the “ Jane’s Walks’ ‘. patents from Jacobs, including a guided tour of the neighborhood. where she grew up. A pair of giant dark glasses, like the ones Jacobs wore, will be on display in the courthouse plaza, symbolizing his plea for “eyes in the streets”.
Participants include the Lackawanna County Library System, Lackawanna College, Marywood University, University of Scranton and the City of Scranton, as well as private developers and other companies. The Mayor of Scranton, Paige Cognetti, will also proclaim May 4th “Jane Jacobs Day”.
It’s an ambitious tribute to former Jane Butzner, one of five children of Bess Robison Butzner, a nurse, and John Decker Butzner, a doctor. After attending public schools and interning for the local newspaper, she moved to New York City in 1934 to pursue a career as a writer.
Jacobs is most famous for Death and life in the great American cities, published in 1961 and considered one of the most influential books on town planning written in the 20e century. She has written other influential books on economics, ethics and human civilization. A champion of city living, she fought with electrical broker Robert Moses to protect Washington Square and other parts of New York City from demolition or inappropriate redevelopment.
Jacobs argued that cities are about people, not buildings. Sixty years after its publication, Death and life in major American cities is still widely read and discussed by architects, city planners, conservationists and other city lovers. This is particularly notable because Jacobs had no formal training in town planning or design.
“Cities have the capacity to provide something for everyone only because, and only when, they are created for everyone,” she wrote in the 1961 book.
Although she moved from Scranton to New York during the Great Depression and moved again to Canada in the late 1960s so that her son would not be drafted into service in the Vietnam War, Jacobs “never forgot. Scranton, ”according to the Center for the Living City.
“During the 1960s and 1970s, Jane was distraught with the demolition of the Central-Tech African-American community of Scranton, where some of her classmates and friends had lived,” the Centre’s website states. “In 1987, she wrote a letter about her beloved Scranton, begging the powers-that-not-to destroy part of Lackawanna Avenue for a mall. A gravestone on the grounds of the Lackawanna County Courthouse now celebrates his dedication to his first town.
The Center for the Living City was started in 2005 by a mix of professionals, academics and activists. Working globally to solve the social, environmental and economic problems affecting cities, it is the only urban planning organization founded in collaboration with Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006.
The Scranton Fringe Festival is affiliated with an international organization that promotes “alternative” or “fringe” performing arts festivals around the world. It started in 1947 in Scotland as a festival that took place “on the sidelines” of the Edinburgh International Festival and spread to other cities.
Incorporated as a borough in 1856 and as a city in 1866, Scranton is the seventh largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In recent years, it has earned a reputation as an economically depressed city, in large part because it was portrayed that way in the American television version of Office, housing a branch of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. When he ran for president, Biden pointed to his birthplace as a sign of his working-class roots, but said his family had to leave the area to find work.
It wasn’t always so depressed economically. Starting with its incorporation and extending into the 1940s, Scranton flourished because it was part of a mining region rich in anthracite, the so-called “hard” coal which was in demand because it contained less impurities than other types, making it “cleaner burn” .
Because anthracite was the least abundant form of coal in the country, and northeastern Pennsylvania was one of the few areas with it in abundance, Scranton and its neighbor Wilkes-Barre were in the industry. from coal what Houston later became to the oil industry.
During its heyday, the area was home to many business leaders who hired top architects in New York and Philadelphia to design homes, churches, social halls, and other public buildings. In the 1880s, Scranton was nicknamed the “Electric City” for its early adoption and widespread use of electric street lights and interior lighting powered by the mining industry.
Over the past century, Scranton’s economy has suffered from the loss of mining and manufacturing jobs. Its population has risen from a high of 143,433 in the 1930 census to 75,925 in the 2020 census. As in many cities in the Rust Belt, vacant buildings have been demolished, leaving neighborhoods strewn with parking lots.
Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and the tourist town of Jim Thorpe were the subject of a study tour organized by the Victorian Society to America several years ago. Many of Scranton’s most impressive buildings have survived, tour officials noted, as the region’s economic decline after WWII meant there wasn’t as much pressure from developers to demolish. historically significant buildings for new construction than on the more bustling East Coast. cities like New York and Philadelphia.
The Scranton Observation program includes:
- Tuesday May 4: Festival kicks off with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti at Town Hall proclaiming May 4th “Jane Jacobs Day”; a flag raising, and a book launch and slide lecture at Lackawanna College for Lang’s book, Jane Jacobs’ First Town: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lang’s lecture site is the old high school that Jacobs attended. Guests will be Mayor Cognetti, architect John Cowder and Director of the Center for the Living City, Maria MacDonald.
- Wednesday May 5: A Jane Jacobs Walk exploring historic Forest Hill Cemetery, with Guardian and Archivist Norma Reese and Lang leading a tour of Scranton’s first landscaped cemetery; a Jane Jacobs Walk exploring the architecture and history of Lackawanna Avenue in Central City, led by architect and historian Richard Leonori; a book signing for “Jane Jacobs’s First City” in the Market Library Express bookstore at Steamtown Mall, and a community conversation about Scranton on Zoom. The University of Scranton is hosting the Zoom event, which will focus on the questions and themes raised by Jacobs in his 1987 letter to the city on “What Scranton is, has been and can be”. Sales from the event at Library Express will benefit the Lackawanna County Library System.
- Thursday May 6: An outdoor book reading with Lang, followed by a Q&A and book signing session.
- Friday May 7: First Friday Scranton, a series of cultural events at downtown restaurants, cafes, galleries, boutiques and other businesses.
- Saturday May 8: A third Jane Jacobs stroll, this time to her old neighborhood and childhood home at 1712 Monroe Avenue in Dunmore, run by architect John Cowder. Participants will retrace the route she took to school and tour the chip factory near the Butzner House and other stores frequented by the family. Stories and information from participating walkers will be welcome. The Observe Scranton StorySlam, a paid outdoor event, will take place within the event, organized around the theme of “Observer Scranton”.
The festival will include nine exhibits at venues such as the historic Kenneth Murchison Lackawanna Station, now a Radisson hotel. Many of them focus on ways to revitalize Scranton, with topics ranging from infill housing that uses passive house principles for energy efficiency to redevelopment plans for the former Scranton Lace Curtain Factory, a complex century-old industrialist near downtown Scranton along the Lackawanna River.
An exhibit will examine ways in which designers can empower young people through the lenses of racial justice, gender identity, mental health and gender equality, and how “architecture can act as a advocacy mediator ”. Another focuses on urban design that “meets today’s goals of diversity, equity and social justice”. Attendees include students and faculty from Marywood University, University of Scranton, and the Center for the Living City, among others.
A full list of events and exhibitions is available at https://observescranton.org