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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  10,910 ratings  ·  926 reviews
Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its initial publication, this special edition of Jane Jacobs’s masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, features a new Introduction by Jason Epstein, the book’s original editor, who provides an intimate perspective on Jacobs herself and unique insights into the creation and lasting influence of this classi ...more
Hardcover, 50th Anniversary Edition, 598 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Modern Library (first published 1961)
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4.31  · 
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 ·  10,910 ratings  ·  926 reviews


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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
Roy Lotz
This is a common assumption: that human beings are charming in small numbers and noxious in large numbers.

I picked up this book immediately after finishing The Power Broker, and I highly recommend this sequence to anyone who has the time. The conflict between Robert Moses, czar-like planner of New York City for almost half a century, and Jane Jacobs, ordinary citizen and activist, has become the source of legend. There is a book about it, Wrestling with Moses, a well-made documentary, Citizen
...more
Katy
Sep 20, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris Herdt
Apr 12, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Conor
You know that feeling you get when someone expresses a political belief that you share, but explains the position using arguments that you find unavailing, anecdotal, or specious? That's what this book felt like. It was like de Tocqueville takes on modern American cities: inductive reasoning applied selectively to undergird a set of beliefs and proselytize for their superiority.

I had such high hopes for this one, but it dragged on relentlessly. I made it about halfway through this book before ab
...more
Siler
Dec 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An urban classic that remains applicable.
Jacobs makes a strong case and repeats it over and over.
Ryan Holiday
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public_space, theory
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
Pam
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Babbs
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Evidently an important work within the author's field, this book deals with the concept of community and the nature of people, and the elements of a city that make those things possible. Many examples from both Boston and Manhattan are listed, but the majority of the cited/reference material is very antiqued and has not been updated since the author prepared to write the book in the late 1950s, and it was originally published in 1961.

Since I used to live very close to NYC, and now reside in Bost
...more
Matt
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Malcolm
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
It is easy to write Jacobs off as a utopian, but this book, derived from a women's-eye view of living in New York's Greenwich Village in the late 1950s gives us a great sense of what the city could be and her recurrent struggles with and voer Robert Moses's attempts to redesign NYC in the 1960s privide us with a model of urban struggle and defencs of urban space. It remains a blistering critique of the impacts of urban design, of the inadequacies of design-from-the-top, and a powerful case of th ...more
Samantha Brockfield
Jane Jacobs is brilliant. Her insights on urban planning are both practical and exciting.
Michael Siliski
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't use the term "tour de force" often, but...

This is an incredible book. Written in 1961, it dissects the urban planning trends of the first half of the 20th century, and then proceeds to convincingly tear them to shreds. Rather than rely on abstract aesthetic principles concocted on a draft board, Jacobs starts from first principles and street-level, observational data, constructing a revolutionary view of how cities work and what makes them great -- liveliness, activity, opportunity, div
...more
Veronica
"Why have cities not, long since, been identified, understood and treated as problems of organized complexity?"

"Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves."
John
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jeremy
Jun 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociological
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
Tamara
Finally finished! I think Jacobs has retained a reputation for a certain cosy New-Urbanist kitchiness, and that's sadly unfair.

The first few chapters, with their endless gushing lyricization of the "urban ballet" romantic descriptions of rows of stores on some Greenwhich village street did have my teeth mildly on edge. (They put me in mind of nothing so much as one of George RR Martin's descriptive passages of food or flags.) However, moving past that, her underlying view of the city is actuall
...more
Andrew
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Especially to anyone who's interested in the ways in which cities operate, but also to pretty much anyone else. Ms. Jacobs was hella prescient in her emphasis on cityspace needing to be used more than produced, and goes about demonstrating the failures of modernist planning and drawing a line towards a new method of development in which the city-dweller takes primacy. Also, it warns about the dangers of gentrification years before anyone else was think ...more
ambyr
An odd thing happened to me while reading this book: the narrator was male, but because I'd recently watched a documentary about Jane Jacobs that included a lot of contemporary audio footage and had her voice in my head, I remember it in her voice. Brains are funny that way; they make assumptions and fill in gaps with what they think they know. Jacobs's talent is in not doing that, in looking at and describing things exactly as they are--from big, philosophical things, like what privacy means in ...more
Anna
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Julia
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 in it, meeting a peppery but professorial woman who draws her line firmly in the dirt. I like people like that, especially those who don't set themselves up as experts over their fellow citizens.

I was dazzled by this book when I found it years ago; it crystalized the arguments I had stumbled through to explain what I liked about different places, and didn't like about others, and it told me that
...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
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apio
Of course, ultimately I want to do away with the city. It represents the values of civilization which boil down to alienated and centralized power and wealth. Yet there are aspects of the city that I enjoy, particularly the opportunity for chance encounters with stimulating strangers. Where human beings do not congregate in large numbers, the opportunities for such encounters are much reduced or even disappear. But contemporary cities are built to serve the needs of capitalism and the state. And ...more
Josh Friedlander
A story in the Economist last week tells how in Manhattan, where congestion bolstered by Amazon trucks and Ubers has gotten near-unbearable, regulators are implementing a congestion tax. Some are concerned that this will hit poorer residents more, or on the flip side that wealthy suburbanites will try to block the law. Amazon and Uber are reportedly in favour. As things were in 1961, so today: cities present hard problems, committees provide fixes, and no-one is pleased with the result.

Or is tha
...more
Sandy Maguire
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book is a phenomenal introduction to thinking about /how to live in a city./ On every page I was struck by an insight that codified what was the difference between cities I loved living in, and ones I didn't. Furthermore, the same analysis can be viewed as advice about how to choose a place to live, and what to do when you get there. As someone working on a big, unstructured move of my own in the next few months, this is particularly timely advice.

The second half is very c
...more
Alan
Apr 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Eric Mannes
I wish I could have given Jane Jacobs a tour of MIT.

As she defended and described neighborhoods that were messy, vibrant, and vital to the lives of the individuals inhabiting them, I'd often underline parts that applied just as well to undergrad dorms. What she wrote about small blocks just as easily applied to small floors; a street map of a part of Manhattan could easily have been a schematic of Random Hall. Her defense of diversity and disorder would have given heart to my Dormcon friends. So
...more
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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
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 228 likes
“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” 52 likes
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