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The Economy of Cities

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  468 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The thesis of this book is that cities are the primary drivers of economic development. Her main argument is that explosive economic growth derives from urban import replacement. Import replacement occurs when a city begins to locally produce goods that it formerly imported, e.g., Tokyo bicycle factories replacing Tokyo bicycle importers in the 1800s. Jacobs claims that im ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 12th 1970 by Vintage (first published 1969)
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"It blows cobwebs from the mind," wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt when he reviewed the book for the NY Times back in 1969. Forty-four years later (and just after completing a two-year masters program in urban planning), I would say that it made my brain explode (in spite of how un-academic that sounds).

Jacobs is best known for her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which sharply critiques the planning practice at the time. In the face of urban renewal in general and Robert M
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Grady McCallie
In this book, Jane Jacobs brings her creative mind and sharp wit to bear on the question of how cities grow economically. While there's a lot of wisdom here, it demands an unusual style of reading. Jacobs was not a scientist or economist in a formal modern manner; rather, she had more in common intellectually with the natural philosophers of an earlier era. That is, rather than proposing a hypothesis and testing it against econometric analysis, Jacobs observes, keenly, and discerns a mechanism t ...more
Jan 22, 2008 Cate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in economics, urban studies, etc.
Jacobs begins this book countering the claims of accepted anthropology/archeology theory that cities are built on a rural economic base. Jacobs instead suggests that much of what is considered "rural work", and what rural economies have to offer, is in fact exported from cities to the hinterland. This is no small claim since practically everyone disagrees with her. She illustrates her thesis well with specific examples throughout history ranging from the ancient Turkish city Catal Huyuk to the i ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Paul marked it as to-read
From Richard Florida, Author of "The Rise of the Creative Class"

"I have so many favorite books, but there are three people that really influenced me. The first and most important is Jane Jacobs and her book The Economy of Cities, which I think everyone who works in business has to read. What the farm and agricultural land was for our first great American economy, what the industrial company was to the great Industrial age, what the Great American corporati
Kangning Huang
Human progress and the growth of economy is driven by cities. Even agriculture is first born in cities and then transferred to rural areas.

The growth of cities themselves are driven by innovations. Jane Jacobs used a fantastic formula to describe this process: D+A+nET-->nD. Where D represents divisions of labors, A means additional activities, nET is many errors and trials to innovate, and finally, nD means more divisions of labors and more work. The innovations add new work to old work, and
Chris Ledermuller
Jane Jacobs has established herself as an accidental expert on urban theory. Her "Death and Life of Great American Cities," meant to be a defense of her Greenwich Village neighborhood from the designs of Robert Moses, over time revealed itself to be an anatomy book for the city as a being.

Jacobs takes her pedestrian but profound musings to describing the workings of a city's economy. She approaches economics twice, in "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" and this, her earlier book, "The Economy of
Jim Talbott
Jacobs makes a convincing case for the urban ecosystems that incubate intensive economic growth. She rightly moves the economic discussion from extensive growth (e.g., divisions of labor in pin making from Adam Smith) to intensive growth (the development of this new product called a "pin" from the existing industry of making the spines in wool carders). Perhaps the book's major fault is that it lacks insightful policy prescriptions like those found in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities ...more
Matthew Festger
Good read. Explains the economic development of cities without getting into 'accounting level' detail. At times, the same points keep getting hit over and over again, but at least they are good points!

Not as groundbreaking as "Death and Life of Great American Cities" by the same author, but that is a work that is hard to top. However, a crucial idea is brought forth that cities actually predate agricultural societies. At the time it was written, this was a bit of a reversal from what was largel
Alkek Library
Jane Jacobs was a fascinating thinker, economist, urban studies and public policy theorist. Her work addresses the growth of cities and their economies.

Only criticism: lack of empirical data in a lot of her work.

Here are some interesting ideas she poses in her work The Economy of Cities:

Why adding new work to old work is crucial to growing an economy (instead of merely dividing existing work more)

Why loosely structured and inefficient economies are better suited to survive change.
Why cities pre
Charles Allan
Jane Jacobs was a fascinating thinker, economist, urban studies and public policy theorist. Her work addresses the growth of cities and their economies.

Only criticism: lack of empirical data in a lot of her work.

Here are some interesting ideas she poses in her work The Economy of Cities:

Why adding new work to old work is crucial to growing an economy (instead of merely dividing existing work more)

Why loosely structured and inefficient economies are better suited to survive change.
Why cities pre
This isn't as well known as her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but perhaps it should be. I have always been curious if further scholarship since its writing in the late '60s proved her hypothesis that agriculture came after settlements. She makes a convincing argument, based on archaeology of the time, that at trading posts/meeting places de facto seed trials might occur as well as the domestication of animals. Another interesting idea covered in the book is the role of imp ...more
A little out of my areas of interest, this book turns the argument that cities arise out of rural areas on it's head. The author's argument is that the city needs must come first and the rural agricultural fringe arises from and benefits from the needs and production of the city. This leads to all sorts of corollaries that are too much to discuss here. The author also gets into what makes a city vibrant and growing. It is interesting reading and still relevant despite that the book was written i ...more
Heather Ann
My first Jane Jacobs book, and what a book. It has reframed the way I think about cities, about rural regions, about poverty, and about economic development. I'll be pondering this and likely re-reading it.

The style and format of this book reminded me very much of Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements .
illuminating at points and clearly written but also kind of unimaginative and conservative. plus as a city person I feel dirty for liking a book that is 80% "sorry guys but the country as we know it is an economic and cultural backwater that exists to support the real centre of human life, the city, and I can prove it"; she makes a convincing case, but I also feel like it panders to my biases and I should go read something about the decadence of the cities for a real intellectual challenge.

Jane Jacob’s argument was that cities, which in the early days were just small trading and administrative posts, generated agriculture, not vice versa. Cities are where the ideas all come from, where all the wealth comes from. They are also much more environmentally friendly because you use much less energy if you live in the city than if you live out in the countryside. Read the full interview here:
Excellent Writer. I should have read this long ago. Reminded me of A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, but with patterns observed, not patterns imposed.
After reading her best known book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I really looked forward to reading what insights she had about municipal government.

It is difficult to get into and it's obvious that she isn't an economist. At this time, I will respectfully put this back on the shelf and I'll attempt again in the near future.
Stephen Brownell
A good read, with an interesting and persuasive argument, but tended to get too bogged down in case studies showing the same thing over and over again in a different way. The thesis was defended well enough half-way in and the rest of the book was just more of the same I felt.
Good arguments, not excellently written.
Rally Soong
Great book but long. I love her argument, as it jives with my own, that cities did not arise out of the rural, as cities are where the communities gathered- and that rural towns and villages were exurbs of the community center- turning the traditional view on its head. Cities are fundamental to civilization.
Howard Freeman
As always, Jacobs is both insightful and prescient. This rated 4 stars and not 5, because some of her statements (in 1968) were speculative and have not been borne out by history. Nonetheless, she is an indispensable voice at the table if one wants to understand how cities grow and thrive.
Brady Dale
This book gets much less ink spilled over it than DEATH AND LIFE (which is, of course, great), but I found ECONOMY to be simply jaw dropping. The book just can't be beat. If you care about cities, you need to read this slender little volume. It's full of stunning facts, stories and insights.
i wasn't wowed by this. i'm not an economist however and have very little understanding of these things. supposedly revolutionary, but ultimately just a bunch of common sense to me. if you have to choose, read "death and life of great american cities" instead.
I learned a lot about economics and how important cities are to a healthy economy. The book was published in 1984, but the ideas are still relevent now. I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in economics/urban studies.
Aug 23, 2007 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: city planners
Interesting look at the day to day of how cities create wealth among the population. I don't think that most of this was common sense, sometimes the very direct understanding is overlooked, this brought a lot of good things to light.
More economics lessons from Jane Jacobs. Talks a lot about multiplier effects and specialization and the way cities generate new industries, and then sub-industries to support those industries, and so on and so forth.
excellent analysis of what makes cities tick, proposes pre-agricultural cities, where animal and seed domestication developed and was outsourced to the rural areas...
Melissa Balkon
Although this book has some really great information, it was much too wordy. It could have been 150 pages and still provided the same information.
This was probably the first Jane Jacobs book I ever read. She writes so eloquently that anyone can understand the economics that she speaks about.
Another great Jane Jaocbs book that is a must read for people interested in basic ideas of local economies.
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urban economy 2 13 Sep 01, 2011 09:48PM  
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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...
The Death and Life of Great American Cities Dark Age Ahead Cities and the Wealth of Nations The Nature of Economies Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics

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