Jane Jacobs Dark Age Ahead Review .pdf
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Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead (New York: Vintage Books 2004).
Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs, is a book that forecasts the societal and cultural
collapse. This book, written during the later stages of Jacobs’ life, serves as a cautionary book to
human societies that are undergoing social and cultural distortions. Anyone who has read Jacobs’
previous works will realize that the book extrapolates from Jacobs’ life experiences as an
advocate for neighborhoods. In her work, Jacobs provides a blunt and a compelling reminder to
the society that is at a tipping point.
Dark Age Ahead was Jacobs’ last book, and the book aims to help the society prevent
from “sliding to a dead end” (p.4). However, whether Jacobs’s work enabled the society to
prevent falling apart, as Jacobs promised, remains unclear. In 2017, the ongoing denial about
climate change and its effects in the White House, the persistent race to facilitate the rise of
automobiles, and increased housing poverty, suggest that the society is coming closer to a dark
age that Jacobs discussed in 2004. Also, Jacobs’ viewpoint of the government agencies that are
unwilling to take bold actions against ecological destruction in the fear of losing jobs is a classic
example that was made clear following the US withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord.
Therefore, although the effect of Jacobs’ final book and its ability to help society prevent from
entering the dead end seems to be limited, the book is still highly relevant today.
In her book, Jacobs points at five pillars as signs of the dead end. According to Jacobs,
the five pillars include (1) community and family, (2) higher education, (3) practice of science,
(4) taxes and government powers, and (5) self-policing by learned professions.
Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead is well supported by research, statistics, case studies, and life
experiences. For example, in Chapter 2, Jacobs provides statistics of the increasing price of an
apartment in North America to exemplify the economic pressures that families experience.
Similarly, Jacobs provides the rates of divorce in America and Canada in chapter 2 to support the
troubles that nuclear families face. Also, in chapter 4, Jacobs provides an example of the
difference in research conducted by government officials in response to the increased death
following the heat wave in Chicago, which resulted in pointless findings, and the research by a
sociology student, which revealed important findings, thus arguing that in-depth questions needs
to be asked by several scientists and researchers.
A particular standout chapter from Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead is the chapter on
credentialing versus educating. Jacobs’ thoughts are on point as she mentions that our societies
have begun to consider college education as an investment on an individual instead of an
investment on societies. Jacobs raises critical questions concerning the effectiveness of North
American education system in enabling critical thinking among students. In this context, Arum
and Roksa (2010) published a book called Academically Adrift, raising the question of whether
undergraduate students were learning anything from a four-year degree. The work by Arum and
Roksa (2010) also suggest that the fear Jacobs had in 2004 is a fear shared by individuals several
years later too.
In addition to Jacobs’ criticism to the education system, Jacobs’ utter distaste for traffic,
automobiles, and poor transport planning is well reflected in her final book, Dark Age Ahead.
Starting from chapter 2, Jacobs considers automobiles as the factor resulting in family isolation
among societies. After that, she continues to argue about the faulty idea held by transport
planners concerning traffic flow. Jacobs’ blunt writing is evident as she criticizes transport
planners who consider that traffic flows like water by calling them “miseducated young men”
(p.74). Similarly, as Jacobs criticizes the idea of one-way roads as an aspect of transport
planning, her dislike for traffic, poor city planning, and the rule of automobiles is evident.
Jacobs’s work in Dark Age Ahead, however, is not free from criticism. Because Jacobs
focuses on what she has read and experienced about USA and Canada, one might find her
generalizing some arguments to a great extent. For example, as an undergraduate student myself,
whose courses include series of assignments to help develop critical thinking, Jacobs’ ideas
concerning the lack of critical thinking in colleges and the minimum attention given by teachers
to students appeared as a broad generalization. Similarly, another criticism to Jacobs’ Dark Age
Ahead is the lack of structure and the abrupt manner in which her ideas are presented. For
example, although the chapters are categorized by topic specific, Jacobs throws in her criticism
towards certain matters such as traffic and automobile even when the chapter is dedicated to
discuss something else.
Overall, like most of Jacobs’ previous works, Dark Age Ahead alerts the reader and
makes one think several times about the state of the world. In addition to warning about how
societies are at tipping points, Jacobs’ writing also serves as a call to action to its readers. Her
book is lyrical and lucid. The book is of relevance to anyone interested in understanding the state
of the world through Jacobs’ lens. However, compared to her other works, Dark Age Ahead is
definitely not her best piece of writing.