The late Jane Jacobs left a lasting impression on the architecture and urban-planning industries, and it’s time to celebrate her legacy where it all started: her hometown of Scranton.
The new Observe Scranton festival — taking place Tuesday, May 4, through Saturday, May 8 — will honor Jacobs and her influential ideas on preserving vibrant, diverse neighborhoods and cities. Its name comes from Jacobs’ innate ability to view her surroundings and figure out how they connect and relate to each other, explained Maria MacDonald, a Marywood University architecture professor and executive director of the Center for the Living City. When MacDonald took over as director of the CLC, a national nonprofit advocacy organization founded in collaboration with Jacobs in 2005, the organization moved to Scranton — back where it belongs, she said.
“It all started here,” MacDonald added. “Jane Jacobs is from here. Everything she did was informed by growing up in Scranton, and we’re celebrating that. … In the last year, Scranton is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The president (of the United States) is from here. It’s all eyes on Scranton right now. We might as well give them something exciting to look at.”
Born Jane Butzner in 1916, Jacobs grew up in Green Ridge and later Dunmore. A graduate of Scranton Central High School, Jacobs began her career as a journalist in the early 1930s at the Scranton Republican, a precursor of the former Scranton Tribune. Then, at 21, Jacobs moved to New York City, got married and wrote several books, including the groundbreaking “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
Renowned worldwide by architects and city planners, Jacobs redefined views of urban life, leading to revolutionary changes in how urban planning is taught and practiced. She also advocated for the preservation of dynamic, tight-knit neighborhoods, MacDonald said, and believed that education, sustainability, diversity, arts, culture and giving back were keys to a thriving city.
The festival’s logo features Jacobs’ signature black eyeglasses, which represent the overarching theme of Jacobs’ mission to urge residents to view their communities and determine what they love about them, what they could do better, who they could help and how they could create change for the better. A giant replica of Jacobs’ black eyeglasses — created by Marywood interior architecture majors, headed by fourth-year students Brenna Heller and Angela Sanchez — will sit on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square. People can take photos with the glasses and share them with the hashtag #ObserveScranton for a chance to win a prize.
Looking through the glasses also is a way to “see Scranton through Jane’s eyes,” MacDonald said.
“(Jacobs) was all about making our community a better place and really looking at it for what it is,” she said. “When people are standing behind the glasses and viewing the Electric City sign, I hope they can see Scranton and its place in the world. We hope it makes them feel proud of Scranton.”
The festival will feature a full schedule of activities around the city and beyond. Starting May 4, which would have been Jacobs’ 105th birthday, the festival kicks off with a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall, where Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti will proclaim the inaugural Jane Jacobs Day.
While Jacobs died in 2006 in Toronto, her formative years in Scranton laid the foundation for her ideas, MacDonald said. Not much is known about Jacobs’ time growing up here, making the book “Jane Jacobs’s First City: Learning from Scranton, Pennsylvania,” by author Glenna Lang, so important, MacDonald said. A book launch will take place and be streamed online May 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Theater at Lackawanna College, 501 Vine St. Lang also will give readings and more at other times during the festival.
The festival also features a walking tour of significant places in Jacobs’ life and 13 art exhibitions throughout the city, viewable during the First Friday Art Walk on May 7 from 5 to 9 p.m. and on Saturday, May 8, from noon to 8 p.m. The works by Marywood architecture students not only delve into architectural principles but also explore themes of racial injustice, sexual identity, mental health, gender equality and more.
“Celebrating Inclusion: A Retrospective” and “How Can Future Designers Empower Youth Through These Four Lenses? Racial Injustices, Sexual Identity, Mental Health, Gender Equality,” will both be on display at 518 Lackawanna Ave. They look at the work of Black architects and designers and aim to promote diversity, inclusiveness and equity in the field, said Rebecca Dolgas, a fifth-year architecture student.
“Art of Living v.09,” at the Leonard Theater, 335 Adams Ave., showcases works by second-year interior architecture students who referenced their own bodies and experiences to develop prototype furniture concepts. Jacobs never believed in “one-size-fits-all” for anything, student Enzo Cicco explained.
“That’s all in line with Jane and how she saw the world,” he said.The exhibit “Electric Jane,” on display at 233 Oakford Court, demonstrates plans to revitalize Scranton’s residential neighborhoods by filling vacant lots with affordable, net zero-energy rowhouses and providing safe, functional and sustainable homes for families, fourth-year architecture student Olivia Tobia said. This exhibit also was recognized in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon collegiate competition.
“One of the judges … when (he) heard where we were from, he was so excited because (Scranton is) where Jane Jacobs grew up,” Tobia said. “It was surreal. She’s such a big deal in this industry and from right here in Scranton. … We hope (the festival) shows everyone the impact she’s had.”The week culminates with the Scranton StorySlam with Scranton Fringe, a storytelling competition happening outside Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton. This event carries the “Observing Scranton” theme and includes storytellers Amber Viola, a veteran and the City of Scranton’s human resources director; Times-Tribune columnist Chris Kelly; Glynis M. Johns, CEO of the Black Scranton Project; Scranton City Councilwoman and physical therapist Dr. Jessica Rothchild; content creator and educator Dan Kimbrough and more. Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased at eventbrite.com.
“Jane believed in sharing ideas and stories with each other as a way to connect us all, so having something like the StorySlam as part of the festival really encompasses everything Jane was about,” MacDonald said.
The support the event has received so far, including from sponsors such as the Hawk Family Foundation, has blown away MacDonald, with groups jumping at the chance to participate. It’s fitting, MacDonald said, as Jacobs stressed the importance of the entire community coming together for the greater good.
“This festival is a beautiful showcase of everything Scranton has to offer, and it’s the perfect tribute to Jane, who was always urging community members to get involved and get to work,” she added. “Everyone has been amazing, and we should all be so proud to watch this come together. Look what we can do when we work together. It’s incredible.”
Observe Scranton festival schedule
Events are free unless otherwise noted, and registration is sometimes required. Certain in-person events will follow social distancing and mask guidelines. Some events will be streamed live on Zoom and may be recorded and available on the Center for the Living City’s website and YouTube channel after it ends.
For details on how to register or for an updated schedule, visit observescranton.com. For more information, visit centerforthelivingcity.org.
Wednesday, May 5
- 2 p.m. Jane Jacobs Walk, Forest Hill Cemetery, 1830 Jefferson Ave., Dunmore (meet outside caretaker’s office)
- 5:15 p.m.: Jane Jacobs Walk: “The Architecture and History of Lackawanna Avenue in Central City,” meet at entrance to Marketplace at Steamtown, 300 Lackawanna Ave.
- 6:15 p.m.: “Jane Jacobs’s First City: Learning From Scranton, Pennsylvania” reading and book signing with author Glenna Lang, Library Express, second floor, Marketplace at Steamtown; sales benefit Lackawanna County Library System
- 6 to 7:30 p.m.: “Community Conversation: A Scranton City Dialogue,” Zoom
Thursday, May 6
- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: “Blue Zones + the Built Environment,” Zoom
- 5:30 p.m.: “Jane Jacobs’s First City: Learning From Scranton, Pennsylvania” reading and Q&A, Lackawanna County Courthouse Square, Scranton
Friday, May 7
- 5 to 9 p.m.: #ObserveScranton at First Friday Art Walk, various venues throughout downtown Scranton
- 5 to 7 p.m.: Interactive exhibit with University of Scranton, Observe Scranton headquarters, Scranton Life Building, 546 Spruce St.
- 8:30 p.m.: Light the Night Ride with Northeast Art Project bike ride; registration, 7:30 p.m., Adams Avenue at Spruce Street (rain date, May 8)
Saturday, May 8
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Observe Programming and Jane Jacobs Walks, to be announced
- 10 to 11 a.m.: Jane Jacobs Walk: “Walking in the Footsteps of Jane Butzner Jacobs,” meet at Jane Jacobs’ childhood home, 1712 Monroe Ave., Dunmore
- 7 p.m.: Observe Scranton StorySlam with Scranton Fringe, outside Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.; tickets cost $12 (visit eventbrite.com)
Observe Scranton festival exhibits
The exhibits will be on display Friday, May 7, from 5 to 9 p.m. during Scranton’s First Friday Art Walk and Saturday, May 8, from noon to 8 p.m., unless otherwise noted. For complete exhibit descriptions, visit observescranton.org/exhibits.
- “Illustrating ‘Death and Life of Great American Cities’: A Creative Response to Diversity, Equity and Social Justice in Urban Design,” 321 Spruce St.
- “Electric Jane — Attached Housing AH — Solar Decathlon,” 233 Oakford Court
- “Celebrating Inclusion: A Retrospective,” 518 Lackawanna Ave.
- “How Can Future Designers Empower Youth Through These Four Lenses? Racial Injustices, Sexual Identity, Mental Health, Gender Equality,” 518 Lackawanna Ave.
- “Scranton Lace and the Center for the Living City,” lobby of Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave.
- “Dwell: Global Settlements,” 200 Adams Ave.
- “Camp Archbald and Girl Scouting 100 Years,” Lackawanna County Children’s Library, 520 Vine St.
- Interactive exhibit, Observe Scranton headquarters, Scranton Life Building, 546 Spruce St. (Friday only)
- “Weave: South Scranton and the Silk Mills,” 343 N. Washington Ave.
- “Exploring Memory,” 343 N. Washington Ave.
- “Dwelling on the Elemental,” Scranton Life Building, 544 Spruce St.
- “Art of Living v.09,” Leonard Theater, 335 Adams Ave.
- “Observe Scranton: Portraits by Sam Barrese,” Adezzo, 515 Center St.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT