The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library) [Hardcover]


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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lisa coney
Especially it occurs to you the spots in the books where you are familiar with. When reading the book, you are always reviewing how we can make the city, make our surrounding area better. A simple idea, e.g. a new restaurant, a new parking lot or a new park, might not be sufficient to boost local economy and vitality.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
zoe crosher
Great read! I was worried it be overly technical since I am not a planner or engineer, simply someone who has always had an interest in urban development. I highly recommend this work as a primer for anyone with similar interest.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jess manners
I don't disagree with the opinion of the overwhelming majority of readers that it is an important book. I simply wish to express that I found the book extremely difficult to understand. Throughout, she is describing physical and logistical concepts that, without any visual aids, I understood only on a vague, murky level. I plodded through the book, but it was not fun. Perhaps I'm in a tiny minority.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities :: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (50th Anniversary Edition) (Modern Library) by Jane Jacobs (2011-09-13) :: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York - The Power Broker :: The Death and Life of Great American Cities - 50th Anniversary Edition (Modern Library) :: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lydia ojuka
Great book by Jane Jacobs. Very insightful! I read it for my Urban Sociology class and we discussed it in depth and I now have knowledge of urban planners and also an increased knowledge about cities.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dario vargas
I will be ordering most of my textbooks via the store. it's a pretty efficient way to get things, the store. I used to deliver them on my bike in Boston as a courier before I got the job I have now, which is with the City of Boston. Cheers!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
cari magrino
This is a great book on how to make cities work and how that makes the country a stronger place. Ms. Jacobs took on Robert Moses and his New York City developers to maintain the beauty and homeyness of Greenwich Village.

The main points of this 50th Anniversary book is to show how old and new buildings make a neighborhood. The neighborhood bar is important to the neighborhood because people know there are people out late at night and it makes your home safer. You can't just tear down buildings and build skyscrapers without a continuity of the people already living there. Housing projects become crime laden when there isn't anything else going on in the area.

I liked the way she pointed out what she says works today may not work the same way tomorrow. Change is fluid and the world continues to change.

Diversity in peoples and buildings are important to a neighborhood. It's important to become a member of your community so you can create a safe haven.

Ms. Jacobs also points out that when cities decline in a country, the country also declines. She uses examples of Greece and Rome's fall. They went through a series of nationalistic seclusion, poverty and debt and military growth before they fell.

There are parallels with what America is going through and the rest of the world also. Some parts of this book may be dated but mostly this book holds up well through the years.

I borrowed this book from the library and can highly recommend it. In fact, had I gone to college I would have loved to study city planning and civil engineering.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs has become a classic in urban planning since its publication in 1961. I had long wanted to read it, especially since Jacobs lived in Toronto for over forty years. Although Jacobs was an American, I as well as many Torontonians considered her one of our own. My library system chose Cities as one of its highlighted Raves & Faves several years ago and when new titles were introduced to this ongoing series, I picked up one of our withdrawn copies.

It took me five weeks to finish Cities. During my first two days I was spellbound by the lengthy introduction; so much so that I read it through twice. All I could talk about was how visionary Jacobs was. That is no exaggeration; I did in fact rave about the introduction to several people, including to my partner who has a degree in urban planning. I could see Jacobs's genius in the introduction alone, and after I finished reading it the first time, I felt I had to read it over again. It was so full of valuable insights, that had I been given a highlighter to mark the key points, I would have given every sentence a golden hue.

For good reason Cities has earned its reputation as a groundbreaking work on city planning. Jacobs was not afraid to turn the prevailing orthodoxy on urban planning upside down by calling some of its prevailing attitudes foolish. Her views which shook the 1960's are now on university curricula. Some of her theories seem so basic now, that even one like myself who is not schooled in urban design can see the sense in them. How could her ideas have been so controversial over fifty years ago? I feel that her outright challenge of the orthodoxy really threw her urban colleagues. Jacobs rocked the boat, which had been idly floating by for decades. It's as if your mother, fed up with your messy bedroom, had finally had enough: she tore her way in there and started cleaning up and reorganizing. She grabbed your head, focussed your attention on what she was saying and made you listen. And then no one could deny that she was right.

I cannot state enough how mesmerized I was by this book. At the beginning I was nodding in agreement with her views on sidewalks and the whole idea of using them to create vibrant, well-used and most importantly, safe urban spaces:

"When people say that a city, or a part of it, is dangerous or is a jungle what they mean primarily is that they do not feel safe on the sidewalks."

How true. When children play outside they often stay close to home, and use the sidewalk adjacent to their home. Jacobs was not swayed by the prevailing view that sidewalks were places to be avoided. Clearly, sidewalks were the lifeblood of the city and where children, as well as all inhabitants, should find the greatest sense of security:

"Some city sidewalks are undoubtedly evil places for rearing children. They are evil for anybody. In such neighborhoods we need to foster the qualities and facilities that make for safety, vitality and stability in city streets. This is a complex problem; it is a central problem of planning for cities. In defective city neighborhoods, shooing the children into parks and playgrounds is worse than useless, either as a solution to the streets' problems or as a solution for the children.
"The whole idea of doing away with city streets, insofar as that is possible, and downgrading and minimizing their social and their economic part in city life is the most mischievous and destructive idea in orthodox city planning. That it is so often done in the name of vaporous fantasies about city child care is as bitter as irony can get."

Instead, one should develop the urban landscape of the sidewalk as a safe environment for all city citizens, not just children. Jacobs dismisses the zoning of urban play spaces, and goes to great length to reveal how these artificial playgrounds, often situated far away from residences, are often vacant even during the summertime:

"It is futile to try to evade the issue of unsafe city streets by attempting to make some other features of a locality, say interior courtyards, or sheltered play spaces, safe instead. By definition again, the streets of a city must do most of the job of handling strangers for this is where strangers come and go. The streets must not only defend the city against predatory strangers, they must protect the many, many peaceable and well-meaning strangers who use them, insuring their safety too as they pass through. Moreover, no normal person can spend his life in some artificial haven, and this includes children. Everyone must use the streets."

Jacobs grabbed your attention and forced you to confront reality. Open spaces and fields of grass within urban settings may look good on paper and on designers' cutesy mock-ups but they were dead zones in real life:

"But people do not use city open space just because it is there and because city planners or designers wish they could."

Jacobs herself visited these spaces in New York City, where she then lived, and also visited urban green spaces in other American cities, and noted how few visitors they received. She saw more children at play on the streets surrounding their homes, either on the sidewalk or in the alleys or rear parking lots. Planners cannot expect people to visit their green spaces just because they are there:

"You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with it. 'Artist's conceptions' and persuasive renderings can put pictures of life into proposed neighborhood parks or park malls, and verbal rationalizations can conjure up users who ought to appreciate them, but in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use. Superficial architectural variety may look like diversity, but only a genuine content of economic and social diversity, resulting in people with different schedules, has meaning to the park and the power to confer the boon of life upon it."

Integration of work and play is essential in vital city planning. Jacobs was no fan of creating these special parklands. She crushed the prevailing belief that urban centres needed to be dispersed over fields of verdant lawns, as if grass was the all-encompassing solution to relieving planners' needs. People who were living in such high concentrations were considered to be a danger to themselves. Open grassy spaces to the rescue!:

"American downtowns are not declining mysteriously, because they are anachronisms, nor because their users have been drained away by automobiles. They are being witlessly murdered, in good part by deliberate policies of sorting out leisure uses from work uses, under the misapprehension that this is orderly city planning."


"The development of modern city planning and housing reform has been emotionally based on a glum reluctance to accept city concentrations of people as desirable, and this negative emotion about city concentrations of people has helped deaden planning intellectually."

While the first three chapters of Cities, all devoted to sidewalks, captivated my attention, I was less interested when Jacobs discussed districts versus neighbourhoods within cities. I could not grasp the differences between the two. Nor was I moved by the chapters on the slumming and unslumming of cities or "gradual money" and "cataclysmic money". These were the rare chapters where I just couldn't wait to turn the last page. However Jacobs covered topics--perhaps never addressed before 1961--about border vacuums, mixed uses and diversity of city businesses and facilities, and even the schedules of urban citizens. I could see how these subjects revolutionized the then current world of city planning. Later chapters covered such topics as subsized dwellings, erosion of cities and salvaging projects. All of these topics were in can't-put-down chapters. Jacobs was able to make such topics read as page-turners and not just for a readership of urban planners.

Cities was at times a laborious read, yet for the most part its 448 pages of jam-packed text sped along. If this book was reprinted, it would be three times as long owing to today's trend of fleshing out pages with wide margins and gaping spaces between lines. Don't let the formatting--black slabs of solid text--dissuade you from reading this classic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kristopher jansma
I read Jane Jacobs's Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) a few months ago.[1]

Jacobs, a lifelong 30-year inhabitant and fan of New York City, wrote her book in protest against the planners' assault on a complex, rich and robust urban life.[2] Her observations are still relevant these 50 years later; her guiding philosophy will remain informative for many decades to come.

Here are some notes I made while reading:

Old cities have an organic character that reflects hundreds of years of interactions among people coming from many places to do many things.[3] These interactions modified cities as they grew, a characteristic that may be harder to see by just looking at a city's current physical layout. The soul of the city is not in the streets or buildings, but the interactions among people that take place on these streets. Proponents of planned and charter cities often underestimate the importance of urban evolution through the act of living, or, in Jacob's words (p 238), that "cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."

How is it that it's so easy to spot "social housing"? Because planners equate low cost uniformity with efficiency. That's not true if people do not want to LIVE in those houses or if sterile developments discourage human traffic. Jacobs spends MANY pages on these topics, lamenting the replacement of old lively neighborhoods with "modern" housing developments that are boring and deadly.[4]

I am not a fan of rental subsidies (compared to a straight income transfer) to help the poor, but they would be better than directing the poor to "appropriate" housing in ghettos.[5] Jacobs describes how rental subsidies would let people live where they wanted to, in housing they prefer, rewarding good landlords with rent instead of employing monopolistic bureaucrats to collect funds they may not earn. Rental subsides are also "dignified" in the sense that they leave control over living space to the individual, not a patronizing bureaucrat. In the words of Marshall Shaffer (p. 324): "A fool can put on his own clothes better than a wise man can do it for him."

What should Detroit do to recover? Jacobs was writing when Detroit was at its peak, but I reckon she'd want to shrink Detroit down to a core (to get people closer to each other) while leaving enough empty space for people to find news ways to interact and add depth to their evolving urban life, i.e., treat Detroit as a growing village rather than a shrinking city. Such a light touch in management would allow people to find their own ways to "unslum" areas into forms that work for them, now. Evolution will take place when it's necessary not when a plannign "expert" decides.[6]

The richest human interactions involve the least machinery: feet are better than bikes are better than buses/trams are better than cars. It's ironic, I think, that "developed" countries could borrow habits from developing countries -- more street vendors, shared-taxis, and mixed-use buildings -- to improve street and urban life. Most of these habits have been regulated out of existence by myopic planners -- with help from bureaucracies and businesses that do not want competition.[7] Jacobs explains and defends how diversity in land uses leads to a robust, prosperous and interesting environment that builds on itself, as people arriving to enjoy urban life make their own contributions.[8]

Jacobs has a very impressive and perceptive analysis of real neighborhood safety -- not a neighborhood watch sign on a lonely corner, but hundreds of eyes and ears of people who mind the children and keep order as they go about their business. This observation is not as strong as it used to be (more mobility, technology and social evolution), but it can be cultivated and protected with reasonable effort. Children in these environments, btw, are raised "by the village," leading to less stress/burden on parents, more diversity in experiences for the children, and stronger interpersonal relations.[9]

Cohesive communities are not composed of people from the same ethnic group, religion or income. They are composed of people who are there to STAY. Companies call it "institutional memory," Jacobs calls it the "soul of a community." She goes on to compare lively cities with dead suburbs. This superficial comparison is accurate in describing the contrast between the two, but she goes further, to trace how government subsidies for suburban sprawl and condemnation of urban slums has damaged the organic growth of cities (p. 310):

Herbert Hoover had opened the first White House Conference on Housing with a polemic against the moral inferiority of cities and a panegyric on the moral virtues of simple cottages, small towns and grass. At the opposite political pole, Rexford G. Tugwell, the federal administrator responsible for the New Deal's Green Belt demonstration suburbs, explained, "My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up cheap land, build a whole community and entice the people into it. Then go back into the cities and tear down whole slums and make parks of them."

The cataclysmic use of money for suburban sprawl, and the concomitant starvation of all those parts of cities that planning orthodoxy stamped as slums, was what our wise men wanted for us; they put in a lot of effort, one way or another, to get it. We got it.

That was in 1961, and the urban/suburban divide that worsened has only reversed in the past 10-15 years, as hipsters and other "new urbanites" have moved back to the "inner city." The return to urban centers in other countries (IMO, since I lack statistics) has been much more gradual, since people did not move out -- and were not encouraged to move out -- as much in the first place.[10] Jacob's puts a damning finger on federal policy as a destroyer of our quality of life and community.

Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS for Jacob's deep critique of the planners whose hubris, myopia and mismanagement has damaged and even destroyed cities, cultures and communities. She offers a splendid alternative in describing how many uncoordinated people can interact with "disorganized complexity" [her phrase] to create a place worth inhabiting. Read this book and walk around a great city to see the magic of the human "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another."

(1) I abbreviated the book title so the blog post title would fit on one line, but that shorter title is also appropriate. Jacobs speaks truth for all cities, living or dying.
(2) Interesting -- to me -- that another great book by a woman -- Rachel Carson's Silent Spring -- came out the next year. Both of these women made deep and perceptive critiques of the over-engineering of nature, a tendency that I am happy to blame on the male proclivity to conquer everything in sight.
(3) Scott's 1998 masterpiece Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University) owes many of its ideas to Jacobs.
(4) Jacobs points out a sad irony about such myopia (and the lack of results that follows): it's expensive to move people out of existing neighborhoods and into new "communities." You pay once to destroy a nice area and again to put people in a worse area. Disaster. She description of these dynamics over many pages should be REQUIRED reading for any student or "professional" urban planner.
(5) I prefer rental subsidies to government-owned housing (the same way I prefer school or medical vouchers to government run schools or hospitals), but are there rental subsidy programs anywhere in the US? In the world? (Not in the UK or NL, AFAIK).
(6) She notes that the difficulty in coordinating and managing inputs from numerous city departments and bureaucracies is the result of trying to engineer a community instead of allowing it to grow on its own organic, chaotic -- yet ultimately efficient -- way. This is the same critique I make of the call for "managing" the food-energy-water nexus in my book The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity. Such management risks leaving us hungry, cold and thirsty while "experts" figure out what's best for us.
(7) Recall that many terrorists are engineers. Engineers tend to think they can plan how things aught to be; some of them want to force that vision on others.
(8) My favorite place in a city is the market -- where this mix is the most spontaneous, chaotic and interesting. Watch this little bit of "market art."
(9) Here's an example of how backwards we've become: a lady rescues a kid from getting run over by a truck; the mom yells at her for "touching my child." WTF.
Redevelopment has happened -- and continue to happen -- as the popularity of and prices in neighborhoods rise and fall.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In her timeless study of what makes cities great, Jane Jacobs believes that cities must be first and foremost a celebration of the diversity and vitality of people. City streets are magical in that they can take people of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and ethnicity, and carve out a new identity and sense of belonging for them. It's these social bonds (what Jacobs calls the "mixture of primary uses") that make city streets great, and for Jacobs it's the street that brings out what's best about people. Streets that permit people to interact naturally are not only safer but more vibrant and interesting -- leading to a sense of community as well as artistic inspiration. That being the case, streets must be placed paramount, and everything else about a city -- including districts, landmarks, and parks -- must revolve around the life on the streets.

This is a concept that's difficult for city planners to understand, and Jacobs believes that planners are inhibited by a lack of imagination masquerading as grandiosity, and a fear and disgust of people pretending to be foresight.

This is a brilliant book, and is as true and as refreshing and as urgent as it was when it was first published almost half a century ago.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I've never read anything about city planning or urban studies before, so this was all quite new to me. Jacobs creates a vivid, wide ranging critique of the dominant forms of city planning, which are driven as she compellingly points out, by stupidly reactionary, romantic notions about how people should be made to live. I'd never really thought in a concerted way before about how things like sidewalk width, the ages of buildings, the the location of public buildings etc. would effect how people move, interact and live within a city. Her method of simple, direct observation reveals an entire strata around us which shapes our lives, our culture and our municipal policies, usually without much notice on our part. Whenever I drive around the not-quite-great American city I live in, I now find myself trying to determine if the blocks are too long, if the road-bed is too wide, and noticing how the space around most of the parks is conspicuously empty and dead. And as someone who grew up surrounded by belligerently provincial mid-westerners, it's really refreshing to have someone vehemently explain how and why large cities are not only a valid kind of place to live, but can actually be essential. I'd highly recommend this, especially to anyone who like me, is a total newbie when it comes to urbanism
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michelle chabot
This is one of the most important books about cities ever written. It's what helps you understand why cities work, why they don't work, what makes a neighborhood, what destroys neighborhoods and how almost everything city planners and governments think matters, doesn't. Seth Roberts is probably the biggest Jane Jacobs fan there is. He's what she calls an insider-outsider (insider in terms of understanding, outsider in terms of career). She was an activist and a student who understood the system but wasn't wedded to it or dependent on it for a living. It was this unique position that gave her the freedom and the perspective to explain the concept of American cities (and what's killing them) in a way that no one had ever done before. I also think that a lot of Jacobs' ideas about diversity, mixed uses, isolation, wealth and government can be applied to other parts of our lives. The way she gets to the core of neighborhood, passing up the easy or obvious signs that others are mistakenly distracted with, is impressive. There is a great Malcolm Gladwell article where he tries to use some of her ideas to dissect office culture-it's a good start and example about other canvases for her ideas.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I believe this is the best non-fiction book of the 20th century. It is about how vitality grows and can be fostered in cities, in human communities. But its ideas can be used to inform all aspects of life, from how to arrange a living room, to how to lay out a university campus, to how to allow a nation to prosper with grace and civility. In an even more general sense, its precepts inform the reader about the principles of self-organization on all levels. It is a plea to allow these principles to operate, and not to constantly thwart them with our grandiose plans, with our monoliths of design.

Jacobs goes into detail. She writes about how alleyways, short blocks, wide sidewalks and narrow streets, are a few of the features essential to urban vitality. She tells how these sorts of intricate passageways are necessary to allow people to flow and interact with each other in safe, productive ways. Her observations are based, not on abstract theories of design, but on her having lived for decades in a joyous, Seinfeld-like community in Greenwich Village in New York.

Most architects and city planners have read Jane Jacobs and honor her in principle. But then they go off and proceed to exercise their "edifice complexes." They build huge, set-back centers surrounded by expanses of pavement or lawn, and in so doing, destroy whatever nascent life might have been taking root in that city neighborhood. Ultimately, they fall back on their belief that all things must be arranged and compartmentalized in order to work. They don't trust that, given the right initial conditions, things can spark into a rich, complex functioning on their own.

Another reason Jacobs in perhaps so largely ignored in practice is that her ideas tend to be contrarian. For example, she states that, up to some reasonable point, the higher the population densities in neighborhoods, the better. People often balk at that statement and refuse to read any further. However this recoil is based on a 19th century view of cities as places of jammed, filthy, disease-ridden tenements. It fails to take into account our advances in sewage systems, our electricity lines, our water pipes. It refuses to see modern cities as in fact cleaner, safer places, more capable of including pockets of natural habitat than rural areas. So if you come across a statement in Jacobs that flies against everything you have been taught to believe about cities, I urge you to keep reading through to the end of the book in order to get the whole picture.

One other reason Jacobs may be overlooked is the unwieldiness of her titles. Since I discovered her, I have been trying to think of a better title than "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." But I've never come up with one.

Everyone can enjoy and profit from this book. However, I especially wish that individuals running for public office, from President on down to dogcatcher, would read this and Jacobs' other major work, The Economy of Cities. I would like to be able to vote for people who show signs of having absorbed some of Jacobs' wisdom about fostering prosperous, diverse urban areas. So I haven't been doing much voting. But I still have hopes that the word will get out. I hope there will be more office-seekers who buy this book and whom I can whole-hearted support in the future.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chad schomber schomber
Jane Jacobs loves the Greenwich Villiage of the 1950s. She loves it characters, its nooks and crannies, and the community that she calls home. At its core, "Death and Life.." is a book that challenges city planners to know the citizens of communities as individuals and allow the local needs and voices of communities to be at the heart of city planning.

I live in Washington, DC and this book resonates strongly with many of the political issues we currently face. Should we build a baseball stadium? How can we build one that creates community and life around it instead of the sporadic flood of use that the area around the Redskins' FedEx field in Largo, MD receives? Can we restore vitality to our local neighborhoods or should we take advantage of our small geographic area and shift our undesirables to grey suburbs? Jacobs book provides helpful paradigms that will aid sophisticated readers seeking to interpret present problems through the eyes of one who saw the rise of the problem housing project developments through her own eyes. I can only picture the pain that Jacobs must have felt when they knocked down much of Southwest Washington, DC in the name of "urban renewal".

Other reviewers helpfully note the books significant flaws. From my vantage point in 2006, her battles with "Radiant Garden City Beautiful", the theories that infuse the flawed city designs she loathes, seem dated. Another reviewer noted her silence on issues of "social control". I think that Jacobs does understand social control to some extent. She discusses social control in terms of the middle class desire to have "Turf".

Ultimately, this book has great appeal to the scientist that lies within me. I loved organic chemistry in college and this book feel like organic chemistry. Observe some social reactions in detail, conduct some small scale experiments in the lab, and then do your best to scale up your findings to problems of great significance.

I've spent about five weeks wading through this book, but at the end the journey has been well worth it.

Thank you, Jane Jacobs, and I strongly recommend this excellent work.

5 stars

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
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

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
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
soha mohamed
This book is an amazing analysis of cities and how they work. Jacobs begins by observing the city around her, New York. She takes note of which neighborhoods are thriving and which ones should be avoided and analyzes their differences. For instance, she notes that neighborhoods with mixed usage have people of different ages and backgrounds on the street in public places all day long. Since there are people around all day, no one is going to get away with doing anything antisocial. But empty streets or neighborhoods that don't have eyes constantly watching what is happening are risky places to leave your car or other valuables. Similarly, Jacobs discusses what kinds of park design are likely to be successful, and which parks will be shunned, and why. She argues for the necessity of diversity of people, buildings, and development.
What's most amazing about this book is that Jacobs wrote this in the beginning of the 1960's, at a time when government redevelopment projects were leveling the inner-cities. At the time, Jacobs must have sounded like a crackpot because her ideas where so diametrically opposed to the accepted standards of the time. However, time has shown that she was indeed correct on so many of her points. This book is essential reading for city planners and social scientists. But it would be of interest to all.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
darren cools
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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lisa carter
When one begins to talk about city planning and urban land use, the name Jane Jacobs almost always comes up in the conversation. Jacobs is without question the leading scholar attacking the modern urban theories of development. If you ask any average suburban soccer mom or dad what the problem is with the city, they almost always say "it is too crowded!"
Jacobs is able to show that the real problem with cities isn't overpopulation - rather, it is exactly the opposite! The major problem with cities today is that they aren't dense enough. Empty sidewalks are inviting only to criminals. Children, shop keepers, and families hate an empty sidewalk.
Furthermore, city planners compound the situation by moving businesses (and therefore commerce) away from residences - thus resulting in a further decline of sidewalk traffic.
If you're going to be involved in city government, planning, or land use, you should definitely read this book. I'm a small government conservative, and lots of other conservatives are scared by Jacobs -- but let me tell you -- this is the future of America. We should accept and embrace this urban challenge.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
patrick allred
The great joy in Jacobs's book is that it's rabidly empirical, which makes it empowering. Naïve change-the-world types like me tend to get stuck on the size of the world they want to change. For instance: thinking about the problems Jacobs is addressing, I'm likely to go like so: "We need to reduce the number of cars in cities. So let's tax people who drive into cities, like London does, and boost mass-transit spending. But that would cost a lot, and we don't have the political strength for that. Man, city problems are hard."

Jacobs is altogether more productive. Her approach is: let's look at sidewalks. What purpose to they serve? How do we make sidewalks better? Then let's look at parks. What constitutes a good park? Why do some parks thrive and others turn into weedy, abandoned messes? Then let's look at streets. Then at slums. Then at districts. Then finally look at cities. At each level, let's ask some really specific questions, and look at which approaches work for different cities to solve each of those problems.

This makes her a) empirical, b) productive, c) encouraging and d) a good engineer. We need more of her. I can quibble with some of her specific details, but her program and her ideologial orientation are so spot on that I can only recommend you go out and read her book. It'll make you appreciate the particular problems of cities (they are not just larger suburbs, and much of urban planning, according to her, stems from the belief that they are), will make you understand the mistakes that urban planners have made, and will get you inspired to be a local activist.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
At the end of this book Jacobs refers to a seminal work in the evolving science of organized complexity. Yet her method of studying cities- what makes them work successfully and what causes them to fail - reminds me more of some of the 16th/17th century physical scientists such as Galileo. Like them, she looked at her world free of the misconceptions and implicit assumptions of the "authorities", the city planners who used deduction from false premises rather than induction from detailed observation. Jacobs is a fantastic observer. Like the early scientists she is then able to generalize, always mindful of the limitations of her generalizations, and like the earlier scientists (cf. Galileo and ship building) she is interested in practical technology (in her case practical policy). While copyrighted in 1961, this book is all too relevant today: while some of its ideas are mainstream, we are still making many of the same errors. She draws her observations from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and for the reader familiar with those cities, especially the first three, there is an added dimension. I give this book 5 stars, because it provided me with new intellectual tools for analyzing the world, and it is fun applying them. At the same time, I will say that it is longer than it needs to be. Internalizing a concept, even one that may sound like common sense once it is enunciated, benefits from a certain amount of repetition and many examples, but there is too much repetition here.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I've been reading a lot lately about urban planning, because after having moved to Silicon Valley I couldn't help but notice how different the place looked from the European cities that I was used to. My curiosity about why the place looks so different and barren was satisfied by reading Suburban Nation. But in the course of reading that, and a great many other books on the same subject, I couldn't help but notice dozens of citations from The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Now I can see why. It's hard to believe that something so insightful could have been written when it was, and that so much of the well-researched and well-argued material was ignored by the planners who went ahead with the malling and sprawling of the west.

Today I see the same mistakes being repeated in my own country, Ireland, where catering for the needs of the automobile at the expense of everything else is going ahead with the same indecent haste that it did in the USA all those years ago.

This book is very detailed and comprehensive, a lot more so than much of the more recent works on this very topic. It can be heavy reading at times though, Ms Jacobs does tend to talk about certain concepts in a general and abstract way and could use more examples to explain what she's saying, but if you concentrate hard enough you will find it well worth it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
herocious herocious
Jane Jacobs's writing style is straightfoward, confident and evocative of a certain time period--the middle of the twentieth century, when postwar modernization was occurring at a quicker pace than ever before. Her writing at times is almost like that of a novel, her descriptions of busy city streets nuanced and fleshed-out. You can easily envision old New York City while reading about the social ballet that occurs in Greenwich Village and Central Park.

While the book was written 40 years ago, it is no less relevant to the problems of American cities today. The ideas put forth by the author in this seminal work were groundbreaking at the time, and while they seem almost common sense to me, they have, for the most part, been largely ignored (in the sense that few tangible results have spawned) and unimplemented. The fact that this is the case makes one realize how *slow* in certain respects our culture is to change and how closed off to new, innovative ideas we can be.

Jacobs does not only point out flaws of commonly held "truths" about city planning, but also successfully argues that many of the tenets of city planning have deep roots in classism/racism and xenophobia. The entire fourth section of the book details the author's suggestions for improving the structure of cities. The only complaint I have is that the subject matter can be a bit dry (such as when discussing housing subsidies), but this is a matter of course and is minimized by the overall importance and originality of the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stephen friend
In our urban civilisation reaching thousands of years into history, not one definitive work has chronicled the workings of cities, one of mankind's greatest achievements, as well as Jane Jacobs' landmark 1961 saga of the travails and tribulations of the American city.
The epic spans eras- from the foundations of the Garden City movement in the late 19th century to Jacobs' contemporary 1961. Through this time period she describes how the loathing of urbanism by planners and their subsequent divorce from the realm of public opinion gave rise to the forces of suburbanisation and destruction battering American cities of the mid-20th century. This lays the fundamental groundwork for Jacobs' criticism of contemporary planning methods, especially in her home of New York. Jacobs emanates thoughtful analysis on what works and what does not in regards to the massive projects envisaged and in many cases wrought upon the cityscape.
But perhaps the heart of the book are the chapters in which Jacobs describes how a city works at its most ideal. She chooses only the most exemplary neighbourhoods, those which persevere and spite statistical analysis despite the conventional wisdom of planners. Her own Greenwich Village serves as the book's centrepiece, but Boston's North End and Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square are also featured prominently. Jacobs' arguments for the necessity of density, history, and, above all, diversity in all forms (architectural, street, human, retail, age) are as poignant as they are eloquent. Those pragmatists not immediately taken to heart by Jacobs' paen to urbanity take solace in her intimate and empirical knowledge of economics. Indeed, what makes Jacobs' book so revolutionary is that it does not follow from knowledge handed down by established theory or intellectualism, but from experience, observation, and wisdom, the foundation for her usurpment and subversion of the fallacious atrocities being waged against America's cities.
Liberal at some points, libertarian at others, Jacobs' work must be comprehended not as a work of political ideology but of scientific method. Her opinions are based on but one bias- an innate love for the city. And all who wish to truly understand it in all its objectivity- its trials, mistakes, and triumphs, and her premonitions for our future, are urged to read this. For "Death and Life" is not merely historical perspective on a fleeting problem, but truly a prophecy as well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stephen england
Death and Life is a book about how and why cities work. Written in 1961, this astonishing classic is just as pertinent today as when it was written. Steve Johnson's argues in "Emergence" that Jacobs was years ahead of her time in analysing city suburbs in terms of the emergent behaviour of micro-interactions at the street level. It is how the users of a neighbourhood are permitted to interact by the street that dictate what kind of neighbourhood results.
The genesis of this book arose in part to Jacobs' own experience in preventing the razing of Greenwich Village, New York, into a series of housing projects. This kind of bottom-up thinking is complete anathema to city planners trained in top-down thinking. Indeed, Jacobs sharpens the knives for her one-time mentor Lewis Mumford and his idea of the Garden City, the intellectual model behind the hideous surburban sprawl of cities like Los Angeles and the crippling failures of low-income housing projects.
Why have lively city neighbourings in the first place? In short, people like other people, lots of them and in as many different varieties as possible. Don't be fooled by the engagingly informal prose, inside this book are immensely sophisticated pieces of sociological reasoning, eg the integral importance of strangers in neighbourhoods, the nature of safety on lively public streets, the function of privacy in cities as oposed to towns.
The book explains how lively city neighbourhoods are the engines of a city's economy, how slums are formed and more importantly, how slums can un-slum themselves. Jacobs argues that through this process of un-slumming "cities grow the middle class". If Jacobs is correct then neglecting the nurtue of lively city neighbourhoods is one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating poverty in our cities today.
After a thorough analysis of the life of cities using a plethora of concrete examples, four simple rules of thumb are given to liven city neighbourhoods - short city blocks, mixed pattern of usage, high density of people and lots of old buildings. Mystified? Well then, read the book and find out why for yourself. Then these rules will just seem like plain common-sense.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
april castaldi
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 in towering projects surrounded by empty space. The lack of embedded businesses in these areas, along with closed in hallways and elevators (which Jacobs calls "interior sidewalks and streets") creates a breeding ground for criminal elements and bad morale among the residents. Cities that work best employ a wide range of diverse interests that attract, not repel, people. Unfortunately, bureaucrats and social planners always believe top down planning is better than bottom up initiative. Jacobs tries to show the fallacy of social planning.
The amount of ground covered in this book is amazing. The author examines the role and practicality of parks, sidewalks, business interests, city government, streets, automobiles versus pedestrians, and boundaries. Repeatedly, Jacobs discovered fatal errors in how planners build cities. She found parks placed in the sunless shadows of skyscrapers or at the end of dead end streets, narrow sidewalks incapable of carrying heavy foot traffic, city blocks so long that people avoided walking down them, and city governments too fragmented to carry on effective management. All of these things eventually led to abandonment and degradation. Even worse, when a planned section of the city failed the planners came back and razed it to the ground in order to replace it with yet more failure.
One of Jacobs's failings in the book is that she never seems to make the connection between urban planning and social control. The housing projects are a great example. By isolating the poor, blacks as well as whites and other ethnic minorities, the state practices an effective control over these people's lives. This book inspired me to check into the fate of Cabrini-Green, Chicago's notorious housing projects that served as a role model for the abject uselessness of urban planning. These projects are in the process of being razed and replaced by mixed-income houses that, if Jacobs is accurate, may thrive due to the nearby presence of shopping areas and businesses. Of course, the planners are still in the game because they are sending most of the poor residents to other areas of the city.
I am probably not the best person to judge the merits of this book because I have never been to one of Jacobs's "Great Cities." I had difficulty imagining some of the layouts she mentioned in the book due to the simple fact that I have never seen them. Despite this small problem, there is still plenty of information in this book that does make perfect sense. You do not need to live in New York City or Philadelphia to recognize that parks with no sunlight will not be a big hit with the city denizens, or that older buildings are necessary to a neighborhood because they allow small businesses to exist with low overhead costs. "The Death and Life of Great Cities," despite its age, is still a relevant book well worth reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mike dougherty
"It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give. If so, there is little hope for our cities or probably much else in our society."
This is a book about understanding cities and understanding scientifically what makes them thrive and sustain themselves. It also delves into the history of the forces that made them what they are, and the methods that will need to be brought to bear if we intend to create life again in our downtowns.
Jacobs really lays it down, giving us a comprehensive look at how great cities work. I'd recommend this book to students of city planning, Architecture, and anybody who is interested in developing an understanding of why things are the way they are.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
baher al hakim
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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
doug cammarota
I think you can best describe Jane Jacobs' seminal book with a song by Cat Stevens:
Well I think it's fine, building jumbo planes.
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
Switch on summer from a slot machine.
Get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything.
I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorryloads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems you can't get off.
Oh, I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air.
Will you keep on building higher
'til there's no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?
I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nick waldmann
I first heard of this book referenced in Steven Johnson's "Emergence". I asked a friend if he'd heard of it, and the next thing I knew, I was being sent home with his copy with an assignment !

I just couldn't put it down. This isn't some abstract theoretical snotty work by an academia - this is an inspired and thorough examination of what makes a neighborhood functional, and what destroys that functionality. So much of what Jane Jacobs has to say is so common-sensual, it makes you wonder how on earth the central planners managed to wrest so much authority and control from the public.

Her observations and critiques are even more relevant today, and most of her predictions have been born out since the initial puiblication of this work back in '61.

But what moved me the most about this book was Jane's amazing sharp ability to observe and document and understand what is going on in the street. Again, this is not a book written by some dead old intellectual that lives in an upscale, isolated neighborhood you and I will never live in. This is a book written by a woman who loves her home and her neighborhood and the people in it.

What makes a street safe ? What makes it unsafe ? What is the function of the sidewalk ? How do people use the street and the landmarks in their neighborhood ? What do major landmarks DO to a neighborhood ? The answers to these questions will probably surprise you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Perhaps the best feature of Jane Jacob's writing is her often understated wit and sarcasm. Pow! She let's a zinger go where you were expecting her to obligatorily remain severe and staid. Her style is extremely accessible and while she is not the first to speak of urbanism, I do believe she could be considered the powder keg for the latter half of the 20th century, rousing others to action and study. It is a shame Jacobs and Mumford did not have an interview session of the likes of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, instead we will have to refer back to the sparring on the the page
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
garrick thompson
In spite of the modest shortcomings that have emerged with age, I still have a deep and abiding fondness for this book... after all, it is what decided me on a career change into urban planning. And unlike much of the specialist literature that I've had to read since then, this book is thrilling, passionate, accessible, and inspiring.

For me, at a certain point -- probably about 2/3rds of the way through Death and Life -- Jacobs seems to start to repeat herself a bit, but many of her insights as to what creates vibrant neighbourhoods and vibrant cities remain as applicable today as they were when she was feuding with Robert Moses over the future of the West Village. This book should be required reading for all planners, highway engineers, and developers; many neighbourhood associations would also probably be the better for having a copy to hand.

But Jacobs' greatest strength, I believe, is that she combines great insight with clear prose that is devoid of the 'fancy' specialist terminology that practicing planners and academics use to talk about the forces driving change in neighbourhoods, towns, and metropolises. Anyone can read this book, and everyone should.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
janet logan
This book is a classic study in amateur sociology: what makes city neighborhoods work, why areas are safe and unsafe, fascinating descriptions of parks, neighborhoods, the impact of the length of blocks, public housing projects. Especially if you live in New York, Boston, Chicago, or Philadelphia and are familiar with the areas she describes, but even if you are not, her observations are acute and her analysis is superb. As a municipal government employee, I think this should be required reading for everyone in city government.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book has been a classic almost since the moment it was published in 1961. Death and Life of Great American Cities helped do for urban planning what Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring (published about the same time) did for the environmental movement. Jacobs was a journalist living in New York's West Village who was a keen observer of what it is that makes cities vital and vibrant. Her analyses of the importance of neighborhoods - especially dense, mixed use, complex neighborhoods - helped spawn an entirely new appreciation for what cities are and can be. As a young graduate student in architecture in the early 70's this book left a deep and lasting impression and had a profound impact on how I view my surroundings; it's a must read for anyone interested in the built environment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
david foss
It'd be one thing to point out all the flaws in suburban and modern architecture and planning now, after all the failures are fairly well known and felt, but to do it in '61, I give Jane Jacobs a lot of credit. She saw it coming and tried to call it out. Unfortunately, it must have fallen on deaf ears, but I get the feeling that modern planners and architects are listening a little better and hopefully, this book will get a second run with them.

This book deals primarly with big cities, mostly New York where she lives, so it doesn't say anything about the suburbs or the country. She says as much in the book, but still, some of the principles apply. One thing she keeps stressing is the benefits an area gets from mixed use and certain physical features, and I've seen some modern examples that seem to have taken her knowledge to heart.

Excellent for anyone interested in planning, or why some areas of a city are vibrant and fun and others dull or crime-ridden.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dan brazelton
This book is a masterpiece, and it is no surpise that it continues to interest people over 40 years after its publication. Jane Jacobs has an incredibly readable style that is easy to follow, even for someone who has never studied city planning. This book is for everyone who loves and lives in cities.

In this book, she talks about what makes a city lively and what causes a city to decay. Rather than point to one single cause, she goes in depth to describe the city as an organism that is constantly changing.

What is upsetting about this book is that she clearly lays out all sorts of problems and solutions, and yet so many cities do not listen to the planners, accepting piecemeal the recommendations of planners. This leads to piecemeal solutions that cities then accuse of "not working." As Jacobs says, the city is a complex organism--any single factor she describes does not in itself create a great city. Everything works together, and after reading this book, you will think differently about the city in which you live.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jacobs offers a fascinating way of seeing the world -- deconstruction rather than over construction. She analyzes everything from the ways in which humans interact in cities to the ways in which traffic flows. Personally, I enjoyed the work because I lived in both Hyde Park, Chicago and Southwest Washington, DC, two places that do not escape her harsh eye. Because they failed to escape her eyes, I have changed the way I view places I lived and loved.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
martha wilday
A great book if you were every curious about what makes cities tick and how some neighborhoods thrive while others die out. This is a great book for anyone in city planning, development, commercial real estate or just a lover of cities and their uniqueness. Definitely a book to read if you live in an area where major planning changes are taking place.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Everything about this book makes sense. As a resident of a suburb of Chicago, every time I go to the city I see a few parts that are fascinating and energetic, and others that seem so unhealthy. This book makes all of that make so much more sense. The areas that I see that are interesting and successful have diverse primary uses -- the cultural centers, commerce and residences are all together. They have a mixture of old and new buildings so that less profitable ventures that still draw people can continue to fluourish. They have public transportationn that even I can figure out and a variety of obstacles make driving incovenient (and encourage people to use more efficient buses and trains). The sidewalks are broad and people watch out for each other, even though there are plenty of crazies. Places like this, like Michigan Avenue, show me that Mrs. Jacobs at least had some things right about the properties of vital cities.

What saddens me though is that it doesn't seem as though her ideas have caught on in the slums of Chicago. The city still knocks down places that don't function, rather than encouraging people to stay and try and make it work. Why does no one try her ideas for encouraging the unslumming of slums? And if they have, why don't these ideas become more widespread? Why are people continuing to try to expand road space rather than focusing on the attrition of vehicles? The fact that after more than 40 years Mrs. Jacobs' ideas don't seem to have been sufficiently tested makes me sad.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book, it's easy to understand and very interesting. Read it. Think about it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
natalie rocks
A genuine ardency permeates Jacobs' (R.I.P.) work on city/social planning, lending it a warmth that carries you through even the more arcane sections, which otherwise would be an endurance test for all but the most devoted city planners. It is quite often brilliant writing - dense, sensitive, and canny. However, as social theory that was certainly meant, at least in part, as a practical treatise to be applied in real life, the science (though it is a 'soft' science), is a bit too soft, and at times sounds too opinionated.

In a way, it seems too enlightened...the brilliance of its unorthodox prescriptions seems to put widespread implementation beyond the realm of possibility, in a society that unfortunately seems much more concerned with convenience, appearance and of course the almighty dollar. I don't know much about the current workings of city planning, but if this book has been incorporated into the syllabi of city planning programs and the profession itself (though I see no immediately obvious evidence that it has), we would be much the better for it.

Perhaps the real culprit in the lack of readily apparent adoption of Jacobs' recommendations is the silent hegemony of Big Business, and the notable absence thereof from Jacobs' otherwise sweeping purview casts an eery shadow over the book in the current environment of blatant and arrogant corporate greed, institutionalized legislative prostitution, and corporate-sponsored Orwellian wars, waged on abstract concepts to insure perpetuity and hence profitability.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alicia rambarran
In an age when architects and planners were spouting all kinds of brave-new-world nonsense (or mindlessly absorbing it, or even worse - building it), Jacobs burst onto the scene with an incredible dose of sanity mixed with common sense and wisdom, carefully observing the urban environment and drawing a host of remarkably sensible conclusions. For some reason we architects seem always at risk of believing our own nuttiest fantasies. Jacobs is a perennial corrective.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
andrew thomas
When I was in university taking urban planning over 25 years ago, Jane Jacobs was required reading. It was the only book on the book list that I have since re-read. Ms. Jacobs outlook on the development of community and her examples of healthy and unhealthy communities is as pertinent today as it was 25 years ago. Her concepts of making our communities safe by keeping people on the streets is critical. Her ideas on mixing land uses to keep areas active all the time and returning to the old lifestyles of shop owners living above their stores, are critical to the safe and happy communities. Knowing your neighbours, not blocking views with garages and fences...sitting on your front porch with your after dinner coffee watching the children play games and tending your garden and meeting your neighbours...these are the things we need to get back to - and these are not neo-traditional, they are good common sense. Ms. Jacobs has lots of that!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I owe Jane Jacobs a huge debt of gratitude. After reading her book I chose a home within walking distance of everything I needed. It was not in good shape, and I had to put money and sweat into getting it in shape. But she was right that suburbs are not sustainable and it was a terrible place to get stuck if the price of oil went up.

I have a community of friends I did not have in the suburbs and as the price of gas soars I don't have to move my car to get 90% of the things I need. Thank you Jane Jacobs, your work changed my life for the better.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
angela bumgarner
This book is old, outdated, and written in a very snide, judgmental tone of voice. I'm dragging my way through all 400+ pages of it because I'm holding out hope that there will be some useful nugget for my thesis.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
emily davenport
This book created a revolution in city-planning when it was published in the early sixties. Jacobs loved the city that she saw from her Hudson and eleventh street apartment New York City apartment. This was not the city that the master planners Burnham, Mumford etc idolized. Her city was small stores, and businesses, and the greatest possible diversity of buildings and architectural styles. People doing all kinds of different things. Life on the move. Density and diversity. Short blocks and lots of people out walking on different destinations.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jason mcintosh
This book reads like a novel rather than an ideological tome. If you think of it that way, the city is the protagonist and you feel like you're reading a bildundgsroman about this much put upon but always fascinating central character. Wow. Somebody recommended a Modern Library edition. I have to concur because this edition (paperback) is badly designed and hard to read. It's worth getting a nicer edition.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hima saki
The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a genius book. Words cannot explain how powerful and convincing this book is, you have to buy it yourself to understand. Even at her elder age, Jacobs is still very involved in urban issues in the City of Toronto where she now resides, but even half way around the world people have been affected by her stance on issues surrounding cities, as many municipal politicians use The Death and Life... as their policy bible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jane Jacob's work has had many reverberations across the United States. The book, written nearly four decades ago, can be credited with helping start the protest and shift of policy makers from using Corbusian designs of urban redevelopment to more traditional rehabilitation, reuse, and revitalization methods to help reinvigorate cities. This book demonstrates the understated complexities and economies of city life, and how those complexities are very fragile and depend on the communication and interaction of people. Most importantly, it helps define community and how community, whether rich or poor, can overcome nearly all social ills and beat the statistics. An essential book for those who study sociology, economics, political science, psychology, architecture, urban planning, and general business
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
creatrix tiara
This is a great book, especially in times when the sprawl discussions are popular. Planners who have even little concern about the future of inner cities must read the book. People who love suburbs should also read this book, to understandand that there is a whole new world trying to survive a couple of miles away. After you read the book, you will never forget that diversity and strees are the two keys for the success of inner cities.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This is a classic book for any Planning student. Jane Jacobs has a different and valuable point of view of how cities work. In my opinion this is kind of a slow read but it's not technical. She provides many examples of her own experiences with city life in New York. The book gets you thinking about how your own city works. It's not a knock on Planners, but it comes pretty close. You have to read it with an open mind. It's also a good book for people who know nothing about Planning, she doesn't assume that everyone knows what she's talking about.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jane Jacobs is the metropolitan Thoreau. She makes her arguments about urban structure and its undeniable connection to social well-being seem like timeless explorations of the social urge itself. As a lifelong city-dweller, this book has really made me love my town, in all its messy glory.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
christine beverly
The significance of Jane Jacobs's book is really twofold. One reason is specific; it offers a devastating critique of urban planning. The other is more general; it lies in the degree to which this amateur's analysis calls into question the very concepts of bureaucratic expertise and centralized planning. On cities specifically, Jacobs was an early and prescient voice warning that what was being billed as urban renewal--big housing projects, highway building, creation of business districts, etc.--was actually destroying neighborhoods and creating more problems than it was solving. Subsequent events of the past forty years have certainly borne out her argument that the planners were killing cities. An apt companion piece for her book would be The Power Broker : Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro, wherein the author demonstrates in detail that these plans came to be more about the exercise of power by the civil "servants" than about actually helping city dwellers. The high rise housing projects that blight our urban landscape stand as eloquent testimony to the fact that, regardless of their original intentions, the bureaucrats of the Great Society wasted billions of dollars pursuing disastrous policies and left only ruin in their wake.
Of course, Urban Renewal was just one aspect of the liberal do-gooders sustained assault on the poor families of our great cities. Similarly interventionist--and equally deleterious in their effect--were ideas like Welfare, the Sexual Revolution, and so on... The entire panoply of supposedly benevolent government programs of the post-Depression era all had presumably unintended, though entirely foreseeable, adverse consequences for their supposed beneficiaries. Jacobs' thesis is easily expanded, as indeed she has in successive books, to encompass all centralized government planning. The alternative vision she offers, of more organic development (basically allowing Free Market forces to function), is certainly the prevailing notion today, at least rhetorically. It is surely no coincidence that the rebirth of cities like New York has come about under the leadership of Republican mayors. But one need only look at New York's schools to realize that the bureaucrats are fighting a tenacious rearguard action. Virtually the entire book could be applied to today's education system.
One surefire sign that this book still strikes a nerve among the liberal elites is its inexcusable exclusion from the Modern Library Top 100 List. Of course, that list includes instead the insipid The City in History (1961) (Lewis Mumford 1895-1990)(see Orrin's review). Mumford's book is mostly self evident historical analysis, devoid of ideas. In sharp contrast, Jacobs' book is all idea, timeless ideas, and a slap in the face of the modern statists of the Left and the enormous hubris which convinces them that they should make our decisions for us.
One thing I especially love about books like Jacobs', is that they remind folks that conservatives aren't merely reactionaries--sniping at noble but misguided social policies only after they've failed--but actually foresaw the catastrophic effect that Big Government would have on our lives and warned against it at the time. On the other hand, it's kind of frightening how much of this book remains timely and germane today; but in recent years it does at least seem as if Jacobs' vision is finally winning. Let us hope so.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
matt payne
The reviewer from New Hampshire blames big government for the decline of city neighborhoods [through urban renewal], yet in so many contemporary American cities the free market forces have taken entire districts [lower Manhattan being a classic case in point] and turned them into office tower farms, which are just as empty after dark as the urban renewal neighborhoods he despises.
Regardless, Jacobs' book is a great, non-partisan look at what makes American cities tick; it is indeed a must-read for city dwellers who want to stay involved in their own political processes and keep the cities they inhabit worth living in.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bird on a cyber twig
An opinionated exploration of great cities. I might have disagreed with the author almost as often as I agreed with her, but her opinions are lucid and compelling. Highly recommended and a pleasure to read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jerry cranford
Jacobs argues masterfully against the popular assumption that urban density leads to slums and decay. Instead she describes how a dense concentration of people gives a city vitality and provides a built-in source of security through "eyes on the street". Throughout the book she discusses various ways to achieve this density and manage the vitality it brings, all the while challenging misconceptions about how cities work.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kristen gagnon
Terrible! I bought this book in apparently "new" condition and it came all used, the tip all folded and it even came with scribbles in pen and pencil on the inside. I'm extremely dissapointed with the product!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenny mitchell
When I read this, it amazed me how little of Jacobs's suggestions have been implemented in urban design since she wrote the book decades ago. She uses great examples and common sense to make her points about city streets and urban design. Even if you're not into architecture and urban planning, this book is an interesting read.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sabra embury
I chose to purchase a hardcover version of this classic because I wanted a good copy for my library. This edition by the Modern library, however, is filled with odd typos. I've already noticed at least five and I'm less than a fourth of the way through! I don't recommend this edition!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In one work Jane Jacobs has succeeded in creating one of the most influential urban planning tomes to date. Nearly every word of this 40+ year old book rings as true today as it did in its first publication.

Every aspiring urban planner, architect, or politician for a major urban center should be tied down and forced to read this book cover to cover.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jane Jacobs strikes such a deep chord that I have internalized so much of what she said without even realizing. I have to re-read this book every year or so to remember what she said and what thoughts are my own. It's true there are parts that are slightly dated at this point, but the core concept lives very strong.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kim badger yerkes
This is one of my favorite books of all time. It's an easy but interesting read, and Jane Jacobs brings forth many ideas that were certainly revolutionary at the time. A must read for anyone interested in urban planning and urban sociology.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stacey arnold
I first read this book about ten years ago, and it changed the way I look at and interact with New York (and other cities that I have visited since). This should be required reading for metropolitan dwellers as it gives a very logical framework for understanding how large cities are unique in their physical and sociological structure. Absolutely fascinating!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jane Jacobs writes well and the book is full of a-ha! moments. Chapter 2 is brilliant. If your city or neighborhood is threatened by developers who don't share your values, or you want to plan a development that will remind people of San Francisco or Paris, then this book is for you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I bought this book as a required reading for school. It was very easy to read and covered many interesting topics. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in learning more about the urban environment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This books presents some clear ideas of how to make a city livable and safety. With some concrete examples of bad and good urban policies in North American cities it shows the importance of diversed land-use neighborhoods for the 'life' of urban areas.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
beth booram
I enjoyed her prose and wordplay for the first chapter, but after it got to the point I could not put up with it any longer. It only served to put me off reading it. I stopped reading after the first chapter and only skimmed through select paragraphs at random. I'll look up the cliff notes or read other reviews here for info on what else she said, but from what I read I have the impression that she's not the greatest objective or unbiased, correct authority there is.

I did understand that she thinks urban clustered life is a good idea and it makes the place vibrant, which I can see. But perhaps this is also as idealistic as the garden cities she criticized others for is. Do people really want to live their lives in an constantly, bustling, 'vibrant' short apartment building like dwelling to provide the colour for others? Who doesn't like to have some green to themselves? I don't know if Jacobs addressed that or maybe 'vibrant' urban types don't care about that sort of thing.

I saw a picture of Jane in her old age, looking 'serenely' out of her cramped box like porch - there were rows of such porches one after the other in neat geometrical order behind her. I suppose to her that was vibrant. (Google Jane Jacobs porch. Wouldn't YOU like to live that way?)

When I read the little I did - I was attracted to some of the IDEAS behind the garden city of other architects and a few other things. I'd like to hear and see their side of the story instead of taking it from one urbanite - because I think her vision was soulless from the evidence. A lot of white western urban types are big fans of what they call 'character' and 'vibrancy' - a lot of people would disagree. Also take a good look at her face. Those who know what I'm talking about will see it - it says smug, know it all, and 'activist'. People like these are good at destroying and remaking things in their image of ugliness. (See Libya, Egypt and Syria).

Another irony is she lived in Toronto. Toronto is not vibrant at all since people don't even look at each other while walking in the streets (unless they want to check someone out). It has a level of coldness that must be experienced to be believed. Maybe Jacobs was ok with this since she had her 'in' crowd and that's how it works there. If you're not 'in' you're out.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
kristin finlay
I'm reviewing the audio version which is about 14 CDs. Trying to listen in my car is impossible. It is an exercise in intelligence. I've played a few sentences for other people and they agree that she must not be quite right in the head to write such strangeness. Her sentences are all around 200 words or more comprising a multitude of phrases and clauses, remarking on several feelings, digressing, couching her terms, and presenting "on the other hand" arguments, and using outdated idioms, using insider terms without revealing their meaning, talking of specific city blocks as if we knew what she was talking about, separating modifiers, rarely concluding or summarizing the clauses into one point, and never turning data into information, but always adding exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, while making sure to include at least five words of 12 letters or more, all before jumping right into the next sentence of equal obfuscation.

If you don't mind the sentence above, you may actually like her book. I think she might have some idea fragments that someone else could possibly arrange into an intelligent order, an order that is valuable to listeners or readers. My recommendation is to read Chrisopher Alexander's book instead which I think is called "A Pattern Language".
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
sherry dinkins
The first time I read Jane Jacobs opus to the city street, I was bowled over by what seemed to be just plain "common sense." However, a second reading had much less impact. Having since read Le Corbusier, Lewis Mumford and many other of the architects and critics whom she panned, I realized just how weak an analysis she provided. Jane provided a most cursory review of past urban planning ideas, undeseveredly raking Lewis Mumford over the coals when he too protested against many of the redevelopment projects slated for New York in the 1950's. In fact, what Jacobs does is go back to the early Modern planning ideas from the 1920's and 30's and leads readers to assume that the leading lights had not changed their views one iota since then. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, European Modernism took root in America after WWII with Walter Gropius heading the Harvard School of Design and Mies van der Rohe doing his signature works in Chicago and New York, but what happened to American cities in the 1950's was thoroughly American, and had roots going back to the 19th century industrial revolution. American cities were constantly being remade, very much like the image of America itself. The mid-rise and hi-rise housing complexes first put forward in the 20's were being seriously questioned by the architectural community in the 50's, but developers saw these buildings as expedient and profitable solutions to the ever-increasing demand for housing. The federal and city governments supported these projects in the war on poverty. Yet, it was poverty that saved many of the neighborhoods which Jacobs described, along with community action groups which fought against the razing of their neighborhoods in the name of progress.
What Jane Jacobs has done is simply collect a set of anecdotes and provide a "from the hip" commentary on Modern planning solutions, without any serious research into the subject. If she had taken a closer look, she would have seen how Le Corbusier's own ideas evolved greatly since he first extolled the industrial city, and how architects and planners, influenced by Le Corbusier's recent directions, were already calling for a more human scale in urban development. But, Ms. Jacobs wanted to shock the public and did so by pointing out the worst in Modernism, and holding up a handful of New York and Chicago neighborhoods as the models for sympathetic development. The book is badly dated with much finer work on the subject available through this bookstore.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jen moseley
Jacobs classic urbanism text lends flowing descriptions of the living city. It lacks rigorous analysis, but this is easily subsidized by the recent tour de force by Yale professor Doug Rae - City: Urbanism and Its End.
Please RateThe Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library) [Hardcover]
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