TORONTO — As an urban activist, Jane Jacobs earned legions of fans.
She helped stop construction of Toronto's proposed Spadina Expressway in 1971, and another expressway before that in New York City.
Her books — especially "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," published in 1961 — have been widely admired.
City explorations inspired by Jacobs, who died in 2006, have popped up around the world. They're known as Jane's Walks.
Now, a new exhibit at Toronto's Urbanspace Gallery promises to reveal a more personal side of her life.
Curated by her son Jim Jacobs and architect Margie Zeidler, "Jane at Home" will display items ranging from her childhood toys to candid family snapshots to the stapler, ashtray and typewriter that were on her office desk.
Furniture from her homes in Scranton, Penn., New York City and Toronto will be arranged as it was during Jacobs' life — right down to the wastebasket, bookshelves and filing cabinet in her office.
Her family never threw any of this stuff out.
"We're pack rats — we don't throw anything away," said Jim Jacobs, 68.
"All of that will give a picture of how she worked."
The exhibit is among efforts this year marking the celebrated urbanist's 100th birthday (she was born in Scranton on May 4, 1916). An extensive biography is due out from Knopf in the fall, and Random House is planning a collection of her previously unpublished writings.
She often said, "I've lived a very ordinary life," according to her son. While her home in Toronto's central Annex neighbourhood may have appeared ordinary on the surface, life there was anything but.
The living room, among the settings evoked in the show, is where "a zillion interesting conversations" occurred with people from around the world, Jim Jacobs said. The visitors included the queen of Holland, Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan, Paul Martin when he was federal finance minister and local politicians who came to discuss plans for subsidized housing.
Her New York City dining room, also represented, was the scene of many heated neighbourhood discussions.
Then there's what she jokingly called the "family museum." Jim Jacobs said he has selected items from this collection of curiosities that figured in her writing.
"It's an exhibit with a hundred stories," said Jacobs, stories that he will gladly tell any gallerygoer who's interested. He or another family member will be on site throughout, a commitment that has meant limiting the exhibit to just 10 days.
Jacobs said he hopes "Jane at Home" will spark renewed interest in his mother's books, especially those that are lesser known. Some 90 editions of her works in multiple languages will be on display.
"So much of the odds and ends of things that came into her life ended up in her writing. She wrote from her observations and her experiences, and her life at home was a major part of them."
"Jane at Home" runs at Urbanspace Gallery from April 29 to May 8.
Mike Fuhrmann, The Canadian Press