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The Death and Life of Great American Cities…
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The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

by Jane Jacobs

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This is definitely a groundbreaking book. Written in 1961, it remains quite important today, even if some of the arguments would benefit from updating, as the text constantly quotes then-contemporary media of the late 50s, early 60s. It is important read for anyone interested in city planning, city activism and even ideas of organic growth of urban areas. The book maybe a bit too heavy on examples, which seem less relevant today, but its ideas are still valid, the most important one being: don’t try to create a city from above, don’t decide for its’ inhabitants what is better for them. This approach was justified by time, for those projects of slum clearing and creating a ‘better living conditions’ as a planner saw it in the 1950s-60s ended up with much more segregated, crime-ridden neighborhoods that had to be cleared up once more in recent years. It is not an easy reading though, it urges you to think, but that’s what the good books are for. ( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
This did take a rather long time to read, getting pushed aside and dipped back into and finally one last push to finish it. I know it is an important work in urban planning and I had been curious to read it and, overall, I am glad that I did but it was rather long and not always particularly interesting. Her opening sections I found fascinating and agreed with much of what she was saying about cities and how they function in reality, as opposed to the visions of planners. But the middle sections of details started to feel more like a gentrified vision of cities. I still got some good takeaways from it but it was not quite as inspiring as I expected. I certainly saw her fiery spirit and how it would be quite a battle to go up against her.
  amyem58 | Jan 7, 2019 |
Going out on a limb here and giving it the highest rating—for its sheer common sense combined with totally justified and creatively expressed snark. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Nov 18, 2018 |
I'm in agreement with everything so far and I'm sure the rest of the book is fine, but it's rather drawn out and, in another reviewer's phrase, "easy to put down".
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
458 p.
  BmoreMetroCouncil | Feb 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jane Jacobsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cavalheiro, Maria Estela HeiderTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Epstein, JasonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paquot, ThierryAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parin, ClaireTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosa, Carlos S. MendesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Until lately the best thing that I was able to think of in favor of civilization, apart from blind acceptance of the order of the universe, was that it made possible the artist, the poet, the philosopher, and the man of science. But I think that is not the greatest thing. Now I believe that the greatest thing is a matter that comes directly home to us all. When it is said that we are too much occupied with the means of living to live, I answer that the chief worth of civilization is just that is makes the means of living more complex; that it calls for great and combined intellectual efforts, instead of simple, uncoordinated ones, in order that the crowd may be fed and clothed and housed and moved from place to place. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. They mean more life. Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.

"I will add but a word. We are all very near despair. The sheathing that floats us over its waves is compounded of hope, faith in the unexplainable worth and sure issue of effort, and the deep, sub-conscious content which comes from the exercise of our powers."

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Dedication
To New York City
where I came to seek my fortune
and found it by finding
Bob, Jimmy, Ned and Mary
for whom this is written too
First words
This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding. It is also, and mostly, an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding, different and even opposite from those now taught in everything from schools of architecture and planning to the Sunday supplements and women's magazines.
Quotations
"Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings, not old buildings in an excellent state of rehabilitation — although these make fine ingredients — but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings....

Even the enterprises that can support new construction in cities need old construction in their immediate vicinity. Otherwise they are part of a total attraction and total environment that is economically too limited — and therefore functionally too limited to be lively, interesting and convenient. Flourishing diversity anywhere in a city means the mingling of high-yield, middling-yield, low-yield and no-yield enterprises."
As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning, years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense.
As in all Utopias, the right to have plans of any significance belonged only to the planners in charge.
This is the most amazing event in the whole sorry tale: that finally people who sincerely wanted to strengthen great cities should adopt recipes frankly devised for undermining their economies and killing them.
the public peace . . . is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (1963)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067974195X, Paperback)

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs's monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:21 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Thirty years after its publication, this book was described by The New York Times as "perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning....[It] can also be seen in a much larger context. It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book's arguments." Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jacobs's small masterpiece is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It is sensible, knowledgeable, readable, indispensable. The author has written a new foreword for this Modern Library edition.--From publisher description.… (more)

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