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Paperback The Death and Life of Great American Cities Book

ISBN: 067974195X

ISBN13: 9780679741954

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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Book Overview

Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and keenly detailed, a monumental work that provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.

"The most refreshing, provacative, stimulating and exciting study of this [great problem] which I have seen. It fairly crackles with bright honesty and common sense." --The New York Times

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Constellation of Ideas About City Planning

This 1961 book by Jane Jacobs, a one-time writer for architectural magazines in New York City, turned the world of city planning on its head. The author, who possessed no formal training in architecture or city planning, relied on personal observations of her surroundings in Greenwich Village in New York City to supply ammunition for her charges against the grand muftis of the architectural profession. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" consists mostly of common sense observations, but there is also a good amount of statistical information, economics, sociology, and some philosophy at the base of the author's arguments. This 1993 Modern Library reprint seeks to bring Jacobs's work to a whole new generation of readers, a necessity when one realizes that a majority of the problems plaguing cities in 1961 continue to be a problem today.Jacobs begins her book with a brief history of where modern city planning came from. According to the author, the mess we call cities today emerged from Utopian visionaries from Europe and America beginning in the 19th century. Figures such as Ebenezer Howard, Lewis Mumford, Le Corbusier, and Daniel Burnham all had a significantly dreadful impact on how urban areas are built and rebuilt. These men all envisioned the city as a dreadful place, full of overcrowding, crime, disease, and ugliness. Howard wished to destroy big cities completely in order to replace them with small towns, or "Garden Cities," made up of small populations. Similar in thought to Howard, Mumford argued for a decentralization of cities into thinned out areas resembling towns. Le Corbusier, says Jacobs, inaugurated yet another harmful plan for cities: the "Radiant City." A radiant city consists of skyscrapers surrounded by wide swaths of parks where vast concentrations of people herded into one area could live and work. Burnham's contribution to planning was "City Monumental," where all of the grand buildings (libraries, government buildings, concert halls, landmarks) of a city could be clustered in one agglomeration separated from the dirty, bad city. Jacobs writes that all of these ideas continue to exert influence on the modern city, and that all of these ideas do not work.For Jacobs, the key to a successful city rests on one word: diversity. This is not specifically an ethnic diversity, although Jacobs does vaguely include this in her arguments. Rather, diversity means different buildings, different residences, different businesses, and different amounts of people in an area at different times. The antithesis of diversity is what we see today on a stroll through downtown: a bland uniformity of office buildings, apartment dwellings, and houses that stretch as far the eyes can see. In the author's view, this lack of diversification leads to economic stagnation, slums, crime, and a host of other horrors that are all too familiar to viewers of the evening news. Especially egregious to Jacobs is the tendency to isolate low-income people i

A Classic in the study of cities

One of the most insightful and thought provoking books I have ever read. Jane Jacobs' classic work on the functioning of cities, though published in 1961, offers a fresh look at our cities and how we choose to live.Ms. Jacobs' insights grow out of two factors which combine make this an outstanding book. First, she approaches cities as living beings. True, cities are made of bricks and mortar but over time buildings, streets and neighborhoods change in response to the people who live and work in them. Secondly, she bases her conclusions on empirical experience. The author doesn't sit in some ivory tower, theorize how people should live and then expect people's actions to fit those theories. Rather, she observes daily life and from there draws her conclusions. One item that hit closest to home for me was the book's examination of the effects of public housing. Growing up and living in the Chicago area I knew firsthand that the "projects" were not a desirable place to live. Built at the same time that The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published, Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes were promoted as an improvement to the community. Complete with large parcels of land allocated for parks and bulldozing what were considered "slums" the view at the time was that these projects would improve the vitality of the neighborhood. But, as Ms. Jacobs rightly observed back in 1961, instead of promoting community, projects such as these only set the scene for isolation and fear.Time has proven this work to be a classic. Many of her observations went against the prevailing wisdom of the era when the book was published. But now, at the dawn of the 21st century, the Robert Taylor Homes face the wrecking ball and cities everywhere are heeding the wisdom in this book as they rethink their approaches toward urban development.

a book that changed my thinking

This is one of the books that made me realize what makes a city work and what makes it fail: Jacobs emphasizes that a healthy city neighborhood is created not by one "big box" destination like a convention center or a stadium, but by hundreds of little walkable destinations. Buffalo's downtown is a classic example: the Chippewa St. area (dominated by half a dozen little bars and coffeehouses) is relatively vibrant, while the areas near the convention center and stadium are dead, dead, dead. Similarly, in Cleveland the Warehouse District/Flats area (dominated by small, walkable businesses) are year-round destinations, while the areas surrounding the much-touted stadia and Rock Hall of Fame are utterly deserted after dark except on game days.In response to the reviewer from N.H. who said Jacobs vindicates conservatism: I don't completely agree. Jacobs' work criticizes liberal reliance on big government housing/urban renewal projects, but is equally critical of big government highway projects that a lot of conservatives seem to like.

Excellent book --- but used by zealots

This is one of the fundamental books on the successful strcuturing of large cities. The ideas proesented here about the principles that will generate a liviable settlement are applicable to settlements of all sizes. Jacob shows how these principles can be met within the structure of large cities and how some of the convnetional designs of such cities hinder thme and create non-ideal living spaces.The book is excellent. Unfortunalely however its solutions have been seiezed upon by zealots who try to fit Jacob's solutions for large cities to settlements of every size. Jacobs' ideas and name are used constantly in discussions on city planning. It would be better if the people bandying her ideas about would read her books. They might be surprised to find that theirs and her ideas about the role of government in city planning may be quite dissimilar.

The classic exposition of how cities work. A must-read.

Even 35 years after it was written, The Death and Life of Great American Cities remains the classic book on how cities work and how urban planners and others have naively destroyed functioning cities. It is widely known for its incisive treatment of those who would tear down functioning neighborhoods and destroy the lives and livelihoods of people for the sake of a groundless but intellectually appealing daydream. But although many see it as a polemic against urban planning, the best parts of it, the parts that have endeared it to many who love cities, are quite different. Death and Life is, first of all, a work of observation. The illustrations are all around us, she says, and we must go and look. She shows us parts of the city that are alive -- the streets, she says, are the city that we see, and it is the streets and sidewalks that carry the most weight -- and find the patterns that help us not merely see but understand. She shows us the city as an ecology -- a system of interactions that is more than merely the laying out of buildings as if they were a child's wooden blocks. But observation can mean simply the noting of objects. Ms. Jacobs writes beautifully, lovingly, of New York City and other urban places. Her piece "The Ballet of Hudson Street" is both an observation of events on the Greenwich Village street where she lived and a prose poem describing the comings and goings of the people, the rhythms of the shopkeepers and the commuters and others who use the street. In this day when "inner city" is a synonym for poverty and hopelessness, it is important to be reminded that cities are literally the centers of civilization, of business, of culture. This is just as true today as it was in the early 1960s when this was written. We in North America owe Jane Jacobs a great debt for her insight and her eloquence.
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