Matt'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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's review
Jan 24, 2009

it was amazing
Read in January, 2008

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 large, fine grounds), has now been excoriated, with justice… as one of the ugliest and most disorganized of city streets. In converting to outright urban use, Euclid Avenue has converted to homogeneity: office buildings again, and again a chaos of shouted, but superficial, differences. (p. 226)

Traffic congestion is caused by vehicles, not by people in themselves. Wherever people are thinly settled, rather than densely concentrated, or wherever diverse uses occur infrequently, any specific attraction does cause traffic congestion… this is tolerable where the population is thinly spread. It becomes an intolerable condition, destructive of all other values and all other aspects of convenience, where populations are heavy or continuous. (p. 230)

… Credit-blacklist maps are identical, both in conception and in most results, with municipal slum-clearance maps. And municipal slum-clearance maps are regarded as responsible devices, used for responsible purposes - among their purposes is, in fact, that of warning lenders not to invest here… Credit-blacklist maps, like slum-clearance maps, are accurate prophecies because they are self-fulfilling prophecies. (p. 300)

… there is a basic aesthetic limitation on what can be done with cities: A city cannot be a work of art… we need art most, perhaps, to reassure us of our own humanity. However, although art and life are interwoven, they are not the same things. Confusion between them is, in part, why efforts at city design are so disappointing. (p. 372)

What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles? What if we are prevented from catalyzing workable and vital cities because the practical steps needed to do so are in conflict with the practical steps demanded by erosion?… In that case we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millenia: What is the purpose of life? For us, theanswer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles. (p. 370)
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