Julia's Reviews > The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
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Feb 16, 09

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in February, 2009

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 years later, a remarkable majority of her argument continues to make sense when applied to a safe and prosperous city. Some of it doesn't, especially in the details, but the core still rings true.

As a book, I admit this wasn't my favorite. It's talky. It's almost 600 pages long. It cites no facts other than personal observations. For a book that is not about a particular city but about cities in general, it has far too few examples, and I think this is where Jacobs leaves herself open to the most criticism. But it's eloquent, too; you just have to be willing to sit back and let this awesome grandmother of the Village lecture at you for a while.
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message 1: by Barbara (new)

Barbara R. Saunders The biggest flaw, in my view, was never laying out the criteria for a "great city." New York is an obvious choice, both because it's New York and because she knows it well. At the same time, New York is unique; is it really a good model for Pittsburgh? And why Pittsburgh and not, oh, San Diego? Why relatively so little on Los Angeles? Does "great" refer to size or cultural significance?


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