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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Let’s rename the Toronto Reference Library the “The Jane Jacobs Reference Library”

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The work and life of Jane Jacobs (wiki) has become closely associated with Toronto. Though she started out in New York — and wrote about cities in general — her move to Toronto coincided with this city’s modern renaissance and she was deeply involved in its development for the next forty years. Outside of Toronto, Jacobs is often referenced in the context of Toronto and for many people, she is Toronto. It’s time we recognize her life and contribution to her adopted home on a grand scale.

Councillor Adam Vaughan has started a campaign to renamed the Toronto Reference Library the “Jane Jacobs Reference Library.” As Canadians, we are sometimes timid in our bold gestures, but Toronto should honour Jacobs in a big way and I can think of few ideas better than renaming our public central library — one of the best in the world — after this great thinker. We could name just about anything after Jacobs in this town, but the Reference Library is ideal because it’s our secular temple to free thought and deep thinking. The brilliant thing about Jacobs’ ideas is that they encouraged continued thinking, debate and adaptation rather than ideology and stasis, similar to the great civic role the library plays in Toronto. In Eye Weekly a few years ago I wrote about the Reference Library as it is the place where I began (and continue) to understand what this city is all about. I’ve come to think of it as a machine that produces a constant stream of public intellectuals that make this city a better place to be:

If the city had a brain, the Toronto Reference Library is it. It’s big, public and one of the few places where everybody can bump into each other. Men in suits read statistics near the guy who waves his arms and reads to himself aloud, consumed by madness and Heidegger. 

Last year we did a [murmur] project at the TRL that further convinced me of the critical role this building plays in Toronto — listen to some of the stories here for yourself. Currently the TRL is undergoing a renovation and expansion and the perfect way to rechristen this wonderful building would be with a most appropriate new name.

If you think this is a good idea please add your necessary voice to the chorus by writing a short letter of support to the Chair of the Toronto Public Library Board by email (chair at torontopubliclibrary dot ca) or via snail mail:

Chair, Toronto Public Library Board
798 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON
M4W 2G8



  1. The Jane Jacobs Pile of Rubble that Used to Be the Gardiner Expressway East of Jarvis

    The Jane Jacobs Air of Moral Superiority Hovering Over the Annex and its Multi-Million-Dollar Homes

    The Jane Jacobs Creeping Gentrification and Corporatization of Queen Street West (Drake, You Ho, This is All Your Fault)

    The Jane Jacobs Bizarre Notion that Plopping Streetcar Tracks Down the Middle of Finch Avenue is Somehow Going to Cause the End of Strip Malls, a Thousand Flowers to Bloom, Brother will Embrace Brother, Wars will End, Dogs and Cats will Live Together in Peace and Harmony, Etc.


  2. Just so you know the process, Councillor Vaughan brought a letter to the Library Board in September requesting that the Jane Jacobs/TRL renaming be considered. At the suggestion of Councillor Vaughan, his letter was referred to the Naming Committee to ensure the Board’s good intentions are carried out with all the care and respect a person of Jacobs’ stature deserves.

    Judging by the reaction of board members when we received Councillor Vaughan’s letter, my sense is that support at the Board for this renaming is unanimous. That said, letters of encouragement are always helpful.

    Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler
    Toronto Public Library Board

  3. If the renaming doesn’t go through for whatever reason, I think a good contender would be a busy stretch of sidewalk – maybe in the Annex or Parkdale?
    Maybe repour one of the blocks, and stamp it with her name instead of the contractor’s stamp. Nothing flash, and definitely nothing that would take away from its sidewalkness.

  4. our secular temple to free thought

    The last I heard, the TPL was investigating selling naming rights to the new atrium as well as potentially whole floors of the TRL.

    Presuming this is still the case, then, no, I don’t think that it would be appropriate for Jane Jacobs’s name to be associated with a partially-privatized library. Whether it’s a corporation or wealthy individual, the idea that you can pay to put your name on a public space runs counter to whatever ideals the library is supposed to represent. On the other hand, Jacobs — someone recognized for her achievements and not for her monetary donations — is exactly the sort of person who deserves to be memorialized in this way, and it would cheapen the tribute if her name were to be alongside those who merely bought their place history.

  5. Let’s not change the name at all. Few things are left with the Toronto branding. Keeping the name Toronto Reference Library lets us know it’s ours to keep, not some random lady’s.

  6. I’m reading my signed copy of Dark Age Ahead again , and on pages 145-148 (of the first edition hardcover), she describes, concisely, what has gone so horribly wrong in the past year or so with the credit crisis and now the slowdown. She has so much more to tell us. It is unfortunate, that her ideas have been warped to a certain extent (but perhaps not intentionally co-opted), but she had a lot more to say about the suburbs, about gentrification, about cities and the economy that many people don’t realize.

    While it’s well known that Jacobs wouldn’t want anything to be named after her, this is very much appropriate, as long as it isn’t part of a corporate naming bonanza that Jonathan alludes to above.

  7. I have to say that I also dislike this renaming idea. Jane Jacobs is clearly wonderful, but she’s not the only internationally renowned thinker and scholar this city has fostered, nor is the Toronto Reference Library only a shrine for urban enthusiasts (though we do have more clout and agency in getting things like libraries renamed after our pet people). Where, for example, is the lobby supporting a Marshall McLuhan Reference Library–which would in some ways make far more sense? Why label the library at all? Surely it’s enough of a monument (to diversity, collaboration, curiosity, et cetera) all on its own.

  8. We should also consider renaming major streets with more significant names than the local developer.

  9. Perhaps it would be more fitting to name the Urban Affairs Library at Metro Hall after Jacobs, and maybe it could house an archive or collection of her works and papers and whatever else might be included in an archive or collection. It would help give the UA library the visibility and renown that it deserves. And certainly it needn’t be the only thing we name after Jacobs.

    As for McLuhan, he does have Marshall McLuhan Way and a program at St. Mike’s named after him (as well as, unofficially, the coach house where the program is based). And of course he figures in one of the most famous scenes in movie history, one that is burned into the collective popular consciousness to a degree that eclipses any possible brick-and-mortar homage.

  10. A.R. There’s an entire subdivision filled with the names of Liberal MPs on the old Workers’ Compensation Board lands near the 401. Clearly, people like Judy Sgro and Sergio Marchi are worthy of support?,-79.520502&spn=0.007396,0.013819&z=16

    Let’s not forget about forgettable suburban city politicians, like Peter Robertson, Ken Willians, Jim Archdekin, all mediocre mayors with street names in Brampton; go to Mississauga, and you’ve got schools, libraries, walk ways, programs named for a politician who isn’t even retired yet.

    The Jane Jacobs Reference Library is fitting, partly it is from her age of living here, it would also probably still referred to by most as simply the Reference Library. She lived relatively nearby, and there’s lots of libraries named for less influential media folks, like Barbara Frum.

    It’s not in your face, unlike the new name of the SkyDome, where they force the corporate name on you as it forces you to say the full name with a very generic title “Centre” and isn’t abbreviated well. Having the debate is good, though.

    There’s also Marshall McLuhan Secondary School in the old Avenue Road Defense quarters north of Eglinton. (One could probe deeply into the quasi-myth about the school, at 1107 Avenue Road, formerly an military residential and training centre, across from the now demolished St James-Bond United, where a certain British naval intelligence officer-cum-writer likely stayed.)

  11. As Sean points out, she wrote about so much more than urban things, so the Reference Library is absolutely appropriate. Naming the urban affairs after her would be a disservice to her work.

    Support for naming something after somebody doesn’t automatically mean “other people” are left out. Is that a Canadian thing? McLuhan has his school, a whole street. Let’s name a park after him too. What about poor Northrup Frye? Let’s name more stuff after him. Marc Garneau! Wait, he has a high school up in Flemo/Thorncliffe Park. Many of our great figures/thinkers have things named after them. Jacobs is overdue, and the library absolutely appropriate. Why the hesitation? If there is somebody you think should have something named after them, and they don’t have a lobby, start the lobby. That’s how this started.

    Nobody complains the library at U of T is named after John Robarts, they moan about the concrete or some such.

  12. I dunno. I like Jane Jacobs as much as the next acolyte, but I liked what the Toronto Reference Library was already named for: Toronto.

  13. My point was obviously not that the reference library should be named for McLuhan, but that, in my opinion, naming a library for any particular author is distasteful. I’m content to be a cantankerous library libertarian on this one though. (Dare I say lone wolf?)

  14. The other thing is, all the good people hated/were uncomfortable with the idea of something being named after them. Too bad, that’s what they get for being good.

  15. I like the idea of renaming the library as well.

    Returning to the matter of street names. Even our most prominent streets have either generic names, or are named after local figures no one seems to remember. These might have been acceptable when the city was smaller and provincial, but should perhaps be upgraded today.

    I wonder how many people could identify who Bloor was. (Still, that’s one of two which no one would agree to change.)

  16. Responding to Jessica who stated that “naming a library after any particular author is distasteful”.
    I think that you have missed the point about what Jane Jacobs has contributed to our City, it wasn’t just her books or her ideas, but rather her roles as teacher, mentor, activist … in challenging the status quo and preconceived ideas … and getting us to see and love our city in ways which we may have not yet considered.

    Thinking that Jane Jacobs was only a “particular author” is itself rather distasteful.

  17. I support it wholeheartedly; even if the corporate sponsorship described above somehow gets considered, I doubt that will be permanent. A name engraved ona building is permanent, and Jane is a person whose name will endure, most surely.

  18. “And of course he figures in one of the most famous scenes in movie history, one that is burned into the collective popular consciousness to a degree that eclipses any possible brick-and-mortar homage.”

    Jonathan, I can only assume you are referring to his brilliant cameo in “Annie Hall.” I wish moments like that happened in real life, especially when standing in line at the movies.

  19. You can name anything after anyone – my favourite is the Bill Johnson Solid Waste Management Centre along Highway 25 between Oakville and Milton. I can see the idea forming: “Well, Johnson, you’ve worked in waste management for 25 years, so we’re going to name the new sewage plant after you!”

    And what’s wrong with streets named after someone nobody seems to remember? Who is going to remember Fiona Nelson in 50 years? William Kitchen? Dan Leckie? Someone a hundred years from now will be asking who the heck Mel Lastman was and why was a square named after him. Any thought that we today have that somebody’s name is no longer worthy of keeping just because they’re not remarkable to us today diminishes whatever we name for someone today, because we’re implying that in the future, that won’t be meaningful either.

  20. The Urban Reference Library is in the old Metro Hall. Since Jane Jacobs’ endeavours were to enrich
    cities, it would perhaps attest to her work and efforts to rename this branch.

  21. Rob L: My personal favourite is the Brian Mulroney endoscopy clinic at St. Mike’s. Mulroney’s legacy keeps sticking it to you, shoving things down your throat, and other unmentionable places (I’m sure he probably helped fund it, and as bad a politican he was, there was humanity in him). The Lorna Jackson transformer station on Rutherford Road isn’t bad either.

  22. @Andrew: How about the “Jane Jacobs Five Minute Wait in a Frigid Wind to cross Lakeshore at Leslie Now That The Gardiner’s Gone, and You Better Run Because You Have 15 Seconds to Get Across, LOOK OUT!! That Guy’s Going to Turn!!!”? I saw a random lady almost get hit there last week.

    Seriously though, I think Jane deserves recognition, but she also deserves better than having that mismanaged monstrosity of a liberry named after her. I used to work there though so maybe I’m biased.

    I’d say name a downtown public space after her but we don’t really have any good ones (if we had a downtown pedestrian mall like most real cities I’ve been to have, that would be ideal). Or we could rename the islands the Jane Jacobs Archipelago.

  23. It would be more fitting to re-name the TRL after Edith Firth, historical Toronto’s foremost librarian and find an intimate public space to name after Jane Jacobs.

  24. Maybe we can name one of the new LRV facilities or carhouses (Cherry Street?) after Jane Jacobs. `

  25. “And what’s wrong with streets named after someone nobody seems to remember?”

    There’s nothing inherently wrong if the person was notable. Yet some names do stick with us. These are prime ministers, war heroes, our renowned activists, artists and writers. They don’t even have to be from Toronto, since the city is representative of Canada.

  26. If Toronto names a library branch after Jane Jacobs, let it be the Jane Jacobs Urban Affairs Library, the one at Metro Hall, rather than the Toronto Reference Library at 789 Yonge Street.

    Ms. Jacobs is best known for urban development. Urban Affairs would be a better fit, if the city puts her name on a library. And “Jane Jacobs Reference Library” sounds like its subject area is Jane Jacobs – not Performing Arts, Business, Languages, and the other departments of the library.

    The “Toronto” in “Toronto Reference Library” is inclusive. All citizens share in it. I hope the city decides to keep that name.

  27. Just noticed this post, and wanted to add that members of the DigIn and theBIG groups
    active at Bloor/Lansdowne, have a closet project in mind of creating a public urban centre, involving the history, library, ideas, projects, everything ‘Urban’ to be housed in a multi media/dicipline museum/school/event building to be developed at the Bloor/Lansdowne corner.

    Now Jane’s signature on that would make ultimate sense!