May 4, 2004
Dark Age Ahead is not only the crowning achievement of Jane Jacobs’s career but one of the most important works of our time. It is a warning that, if headed, could save our very way of life.
The dark age is a cultures dead-end. Throughout history, there have been many more dark ages than the one that occurred between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Renaissance. In North America, for example, we live in a virtual graveyard of lost and destroyed aboriginal cultures. In this powerful and provocative book, renowned author Jane Jacobs argues persuasively that we face the coming of our own dark age.
Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors went from hunter-gatherers to farmers and, along the way, lost almost all memory of what existed before. Now we stand at another monumental crossroads, as agrarianism gives way to a technology-based future. How do we make the shift without losing the culture we hold dear?
First we must concede that things are awry. Jacobs identifies five central pillars of our society that show serious signs of decay: community and family; higher education; science and technology; governmental representation; and self-regulation of the learned professions. These are the elements we depend on to stand firm – but Jacobs maintains that they are in the process of becoming irrelevant. If that happens, we will longer recognize ourselves.
The good news is that the erosion can be reversed. Japan avoided cultural defeat by retaining a strong hold on history and preservation during war, besiegement, and occupation. Ireland was devastated by famine and colonialism, but managed to renew its culture through the steadfast determination of its citizens. Jacobs assures us that the same can happen here – if only we recognize the signs of decline in time.
Jane Jacobs is the legendary author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a work that has never gone out of print and that has transformed the disciplines of urban planning and city architecture. Her other major works include The Economy of Cities, Systems of Survival, and The Nature of Economics. She lives in Toronto.