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The Death and Life of Great American Cities
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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  5,638 ratings  ·  542 reviews
This book is an attack on current methods of city planning and re-building. It is also an explanation of new principles and an argument for different methods from those now in use. It is the first real alternative to conventional city planning that we have had in this century. Its author, herself a city dweller and an editor of Architectural Forum, is direct and practical ...more
Hardcover, 472 pages
Published September 10th 2002 by Random House (first published 1961)
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The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane JacobsThe Image of the City by Kevin LynchThe Geography of Nowhere by James Howard KunstlerThe City in History by Lewis MumfordDesign With Nature by Ian L. McHarg
Top Urban Planning books Of All time
1st out of 67 books — 54 voters
The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
239th out of 2,847 books — 4,865 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Stephanie Sun
My favorite quotes from my re-read of this book last week (with city eye candy):
On TRUST:
"The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts... Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all." (p. 56)

On PRIVACY:
"A good city street neighborhood achieves a marvel of balance between its people's determination to have essential privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees of contact, enjoyment or help from the people ar
...more
Katy
I know some people who will balk at my 3-star rating, so I will explain myself. As a body of work, it is amazing and I adore Jane Jacobs. However, a good portion of this book still manages to be dull, despite being very important. (I can't help it!) I dig nonfiction, and I think 3 stars for a non-fiction book means it's pretty darn good, because who ever finished a cruddy non-fiction book unless they were taking a class? So, I read it voluntarily and give it 3 stars on the highly-sensitive and m ...more
Siler
An urban classic that remains applicable.
Jacobs makes a strong case and repeats it over and over.
Matt
Favorite passages:

To generate exuberant diversity in a city's streets and districts, four conditions are indispensable: The distrct must serve more than one purpose (preferably more than two), the blocks must be short, the buildings must vary in age and condition, and the population must be dense.

Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, which used to be considered by many critics one of the most beautiful of American avenues (it was, in those days, essentially a suburban avenue of large, fine houses with lar
...more
Chris Herdt
May 27, 2010 Chris Herdt rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Insomniacs
Recommended to Chris by: Murph, many others
The Death and Life of Great American Cities was both a frustrating and an illuminating book.

It was frustrating because it was long, and in many parts dull: I was yawning at 3 o'clock in the afternoon while drinking coffee and reading this. This book is a fabulous soporific and I recommend it heartily to insomniacs everywhere.

It was also frustrating because it is showing its age. Jacobs longs for diverse neighborhoods with fruit stands and butcher shops that aren't coming back, filled with bored
...more
Pam
This took me a while to read because it was easy to put down. This book is famous for being one of the first sources of critique of American city planning, and many of her arguments seem to hold water even today. This said, I constantly asked myself "where is the science?" while reading this. I wonder if it had been published in this decade, would she be allowed to draw so many conclusions based almost entirely on personal observation and opinion. My assessment of this book mirrors my judgment o ...more
Ryan Holiday
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 ...more
Andrea
One of the books that all planners are supposed to have read, I know it's a bit shocking that I have only now read it. And regrettable. It deserves every ounce of it's status as a classic (if such status were to be measured in ounces). It's eminently readable (and isn't that a pleasure in a book of this kind), but also incredibly insightful and of course I love how it resonates so brilliantly with my experience living in many different cities while toppling most accepted planning theory. The mor ...more
Samantha Brockfield
Dec 26, 2008 Samantha Brockfield is currently reading it
Jane Jacobs is brilliant. Her insights on urban planning are both practical and exciting.
John
Jan 01, 2009 John rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teagan
My friend Todd’s finishing up his PhD in Urban Planning at Louisville this year, and he’s been telling me since he started the program that I should read this book, especially since I live in New York City.

I bought the book awhile ago, but never got around to reading it; it just didn’t seem to be my kind of thing. “It’s more your thing than mine,” Todd said. I didn’t know what he meant until I decided to incorporate it into a freshman orientation class I teach on the history and mystery of New
...more
Jennifer Richardson
FINALLY finished this book, but it was worth trucking through because I learned so much! Urban planning is something I knew literally nothing about, and now I am able to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation about some of the issues- to the point where some nosey stranger said "ahh you guys are planners aren't you?" This book is surprisingly easy to read, and Jane Jacobs approaches the flaws of current urban planning tactics with amusingly caustic commentary, giving enough background to inf ...more
Mark Abersold
This is pretty much the bible of modern urban planning, and it's definitely a great read if that is a subject that interests you. It delves pretty deeply into the topic matter and as such if you're not a city wonk you might not find it interesting (may I recommend Jeff Speck's Walkable City instead?).

That said, I found it very interesting, truthful, and likely to surprise many preconceived notions of how cities should be planned. If you're involved in any sort of city planning or real estate dev
...more
Amélie
Juste un tout petit mot sur ce livre, que j'ai lu surtout pour l'école --

Aussi accessible & rafraîchissant que peut l'être un livre qui parle essentiellement de planification urbaine -- c'est-à-dire : pas beaucoup si c'est pas le genre de choses qui vous intéresse, mais extrêmement beaucoup si vous êtes habitués de lire des études de cas ou des théorisations hyper-sèches sur la ville (oui oui, je parle de moi). Jacobs a une façon très intuitive d'aborder les enjeux qui l'intéressent, & e
...more
Jeremy
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 m ...more
Chris Ledermuller
This is the first book that brought Jane Jacobs to prominence, helped establish her career of electic, observational writings, and most importantly, it is a transformational piece.

Published in the early 1960s, she had given the first voice to the voiceless city that was only being silenced as history progressed. "Death and Life" made its intentions clear: It was an attack on the very notion of urban planning. Jacobs stepped up against what the conventional wisdom of her time thought was done in
...more
Alan
Apr 05, 2010 Alan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: City planners and suchlike wannabes
Recommended to Alan by: Jo Walton, though indirectly
Savage, brilliant, and brilliantly savage, this scathing indictment of sterile and soulless city planning remains, sadly, as relevant today as when it was written, some 50 years ago. Jacobs pulls no punches whatsoever when she's dissecting problems in the Bronx, in the works of Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, with the pernicious effects that automobiles have on living cities, or in the general case of urban renewal and the single-use, single-aged "neighborhood," about which she says,
"It is dead.
...more
Shek
A smart and prescient book, comprehensively explaining the dismal failures of utopian and destructive city planning as practiced most egregiously in the US from the '50s through the '70s (and, in one form or another, today as well).

Jacobs does a neat magic trick here, confirming the goodness of so many aspects of well-functioning cities that seem instinctively right - for instance, the benefits of streets with mixed uses (especially those that consistently attract foot traffic at all times of d
...more
Julia
My mother is a historic preservationist in Greenwich Village, and I grew up a block away from Jacobs' favorite example of a well-functioning city block. How can I even review this book?

I'm looking forward to reading some more recent of Jacobs' writings, because the context of this book is almost as important as the argument itself. To her credit, Jacobs fully acknowledges this. She's writing at a time when cities, including New York, are dying -- dangerous, shrinking, getting poorer. And forty y
...more
blue-collar mind
Mar 06, 2008 blue-collar mind rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those fighting for place, you goddamn New Urbanists who miss the point
I know that if I had met Jane Jacobs, I would have liked her. I know this from reading this book, and meeting a peppery but professorial woman within it-who draws her line firmly in the dirt.

I was dazzled by this book when I found it years ago; it crystalized the arguments I stumbled for to explain what I liked about different places, and didn't like about others, and told me I was right to value the cityscape and my neighbors.
So much of what Jacobs brought to the fight is at play in my home of
...more
Lcpatricio
Com um texto muito envolvente, Jane Jacobs escreve sobre o que torna as ruas seguras ou inseguras; sobre o que vem a ser um bairro e sua função dentro do complexo organismo que é a cidade; sobre os motivos que fazem um bairro permanecer pobre enquanto outros se revitalizam; sobre os perigos do excesso de dinheiro para a construção e sobre os perigos da escassez de diversidades. Compreensiva, humana e muitas vezes indignada, a monumental obra de Jane Jacobs fornece uma base para avaliarmos a vita ...more
Meredith Watts
This book was published fifty years ago, but reads like it was written yesterday by someone you'd really love to talk to. Jacobs is witty, perceptive, funny, and all-knowledgeable about what makes a city work. I learned so much from reading this book. She never pulls her punches, but backs up everything she says about what makes a lively city neighborhood, what makes a well-functioning district, and why decontaminating certain public buildings and putting them in a preserve with lots of grass (r ...more
Erhardt
This classic holds up astonishingly well after 53 years. Jane Jacobs identifies or predicts problems that continue to affect cities like San Francisco, LA, Philadelphia, and most notably Detroit. The contributions here are historical, sociological, and theoretical. It's great to see how much of her sentiment, spirit, and insight are now a part of city planning, but we miss larger lessons still about the level of complexity and the need for greater interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collabor ...more
Kangning Huang
In , Jane Jacobs attributes the economic developments to the innovations happen inside cities. And the innovations are stimulated by adding new activities to existing diversified divisions of labors.

Just as diversity contributes to economic growth, it also contribute to safety, convenience, and social contacts in cities. Diversity is essential for the exuberance of cities. With intricate and close-gained diversity, citizens can support each other economically and socially. To promote and improve
...more
Kars
With the last lines still going through my head I write this short review to tell you it is truly a one-of-a-kind book. I'm particularly impressed with how Jacobs combines very personal detailed anecdotes with big ideas and insights that have broad application. If you're a lover of cities, or deal with the shaping of them in any way - which is most of us, I guess - you really should read this. You'll never look at your own neighborhood in quite the same way.
Gabriel
The Death and Life of Great American Cities is perhaps one of the most influential books in the history of planning, especially in the United States. In it Jane Jacobs fundamental accomplishment was to rebuke the core assumptions of the modern paradigm in urban planning, best embodied in Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse and in Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City. Jacobs manages to condense in one book all the misfortunes that plagued the American Cities of the 1960s and provide sensitive solutions, and a ...more
B
Building largely on her observations in late 1950s select American cities, many of her findings on the value of use and form diversity remain valid. It would be interesting to read her reaction to the changes wrought by the growth of cars and traffic, air conditioning, two-parent working families, e-commerce, cell phones and tablets.
Anna
I was prompted to read this book, which had sat on my shelf for a little while, by its inclusion in an essay reading list. As I needed to mark the essays, it was time to read the thing. I enjoyed the majority of it, although naturally some chapters have aged better than others. That in itself is interesting, though, and at times sad. Jacobs writes to challenge the utopian, modernist, grand-scale, top-down, social engineering approach to planning that prevailed (I over-generalise) between the ear ...more
Sean
Ever wonder why most of our "Civic Centers" in North America are "avoided by everyone but bums, who have fewer choices of loitering place than others?" You already know the answer, and The Death and Life of American Cities will reacquaint you with it.

Fixing fundamental mistakes that we overlook every day starts with seeing them. It's a masterpiece of common sense.
Diana Lowry
A classic. Yet still relevant. Amazing to think Jacobs wrote it decades ago, and yet cities continue to languish and under-perform when a good dose of common sense and a healthy shifting of priorities could make all the difference. Essential reading if for no other reason than to appreciate urban living. Would have loved Jacobs to have studied some Canadian cities!
Kim
More relevant today than when written. Does anyone write about important matters in a way that members of the general public can understand anymore? Maybe Michelle Alexander. Sometimes I wonder. Read it, although it will make you despair for our current state of civic leadership.
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  • The Image of the City
  • Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
  • The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape
  • The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects
  • The Works: Anatomy of a City
  • Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form
  • Great Streets
  • Cities for People
  • Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century
  • The High Cost of Free Parking
  • A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction
  • Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
  • How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built
  • Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability
  • The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
  • Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
  • Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan
  • Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
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Jane Jacobs, OC, O.Ont (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American-born Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. The book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to inf ...more
More about Jane Jacobs...
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“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 75 likes
“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” 19 likes
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