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The Economy of Cities

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,033 ratings  ·  78 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, 268 pages
Published February 12th 1970 by Vintage (first published 1969)
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Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"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
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cities
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
Feb 11, 2021 added it
Shelves: urbanism, economics
OK, Jane Jacobs, while she is a landmark American thinker is not an academic economist or anything of the sort. Of course, that doesn't preclude her from being able to write about economic subjects, but keep that in mind. I was intrigued by her examples, but I'd like to see some more empirical, data-driven arguments that go either for or against her thesis. Something tells me something is not quite right. ...more
Chris Ledermuller
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urbanism, nonfiction
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
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Nolan Gray
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: city-reads
Another great read from Jane Jacobs. Jacobs continues developing her unique views on human nature and society, exploring concepts like spontaneous order, the centrality of trade (be it ideas, goods, ect.) to human life, and how our natural habitat - the city - works. As in "The Death and Life of the Great American Cities," she takes what may seem like a dry subject (in this case, urban economics) and makes it downright engrossing. With insights on subjects ranging from class conflict to early ur ...more
Apr 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: urban-studies
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. ...more
Sep 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology, economics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 02, 2012 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
Stephen Brownell
Jan 04, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
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.
Oct 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, psu
The writing style is quite repetitive, but the book contains some very good theories of urban growth.
Vincent Lombardo
Sep 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had to read this book for an urban studies class in college, and just picked it up recently for a specific reason. I liked it more 41 years ago! Very dense.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jane Jacobs is a badass.
Kangning Huang
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: directed-reading
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 ma
Ashley Leong
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I have read by Jane Jacobs, and it will not be the last. I have know of her work since studying architecture in college, particularly The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but never sat down to read anything. As this one was available at my local library branch, it seemed like a good a place as any to start. Despite the density of the topics covered I found her prose to be quite accessible, and the theories she expounded upon interesting and logical.

Jacobs examines
Juan Pollardo
Outlines how economic development originates in cities, not in rural agriculture as previously assumed, in 5 steps. 1. The city establishes itself supplying an expanding market in an older city 2. Local businesses set up to support exports begin exporting their own work 3. Imports are replaced by local workers causing a growth explosion as the economy diversifies and create new work that was neither imported nor exported prior to growth 4. New work becomes new exports and the composition of impo ...more
Jim Talbott
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Charles Allan
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
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
Dec 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 08, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Oct 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 .
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing

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:
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aug 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 02, 2007 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Aug 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 20, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
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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

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