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The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library)
Synopses & Reviews
Thirty years after its publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities was described by The New York Times as "perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning....[It] can also be seen in a much larger context. It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book's arguments." Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jacobs's small masterpiece is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It is sensible, knowledgeable, readable, indispensable. The author has written a new foreword for this Modern Library edition.
"Jane Jacobs has become more than a person. She is an adjective." Toronto Life
"This is vintage Jane Jacobs: quietly authoritative, profoundly accessible, and disdainful of the blinkered viewpoints of academic theorists." The Calgary Herald
"Witty, beautifully written — the culmination of Jacobs' previous thinking, and a step forward that deftly invokes a broader philosophical, even metaphysical, context." Publishers Weekly
"The liveliness of her mind is a joy to behold, as is her common sense and a prose style uncluttered with the litter of empty jargon...her book is well and timely met." The Globe and Mail
"Perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning....[It] can also be seen in a much larger context. It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book's arguments." New York Times
This book is an attack on current methods of city planning and re-building. It is also an explanation of new principles and an argument for different methods from those now in use. It is the first real alternative to conventional city planning that we have had in this century. Its author, herself a city dweller and an editor of Architectural Forum, is direct and practical in her approach. What, she asks, makes cities work? Why are some neighborhoods full of things to do and see and why are others dull? Why does the crime rate soar in our public housing developments and why are some of our older neighborhoods, despite their evident pov-erty, so much more safe, stable and congenial? Why do some neighborhoods attract interested and responsible populations and why do others degenerate? Why are Boston's North End and the eastern and western extremes of Greenwich Village good neighborhoods and why do orthodox city planners consider them slums? What alternatives are there to current city planning and rebuilding?
Conventional city planning holds that cities decline because they are blighted by too many people, by mixtures of commercial, industrial and residential uses, by old buildings and narrow streets and by small landholders who stand in the way of large-scale development. Such neighborhoods, they insist, breed apathy and crime, discourage investment and contaminate the areas around them. The response of con-ventional city planning is to tear them down, scatter their inhabitants, lay out super-blocks, and rebuild the area accord-ing to an integrated plan, with the result, as often as not, that the crime rate rises still higher, the new neighborhood is more lifeless than the old one, and the surrounding areas deteriorate even more, until the life of the whole city is threatened.
But Mrs. Jacobs observes that in any number of cases these very conditions--mixed uses, dense population, old buildings, small blocks, decentralized ownership--create the very opposite of slums, neighborhoods that regenerate themselves spontaneously, that are full of variety and diversity, that attract large numbers of casual visitors and responsible new residents, that encourage investment and revitalize the areas around them. Boston's North End (condemned as a slum by or-thodox planners) is such a neighborhood, and so is Greenwich Village. Rittenhouse Square and Telegraph Hill are others. Nearly every large city can produce still other examples.
Why then do some city neighborhoods die and why do others flourish? And what can city planners do to avoid the death and encourage the life of our great American cities? The solutions proposed by Mrs. Jacobs in this book represent a sharp break with conventional thinking on the subject and they carry with them the ring of simple truth which marks this book as an inevitable classic of social thought.
This edition is set from the first American edition of 1961 and commemorates the seventy-fifth anniversary of Random House.
About the Author
Jane Jacobs was born on May 4, 1916, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her father was a physician and her mother taught school and worked as a nurse. After high school and a year spent as a reporter on the Scranton Tribune, Jacobs went to New York, where she found a succession of jobs as a stenographer and wrote free-lance articles about the city's many working districts, which fascinated her. In 1952, after a number of writing and editing jobs ranging in subject matter from metallurgy to a geography of the United States for foreign readers, she became an associate editor of Architectural Forum. She was becoming increasingly skeptical of conventional planning beliefs as she noticed that the city rebuilding projects she was assigned to write about seemed neither safe, interesting, alive, nor good economics for cities once the projects were built and in operation. She gave a speech to that effect at Harvard in 1956, and this led to an article in Fortune magazine entitled "Downtown Is for People," which in turn led to The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The book was published in 1961 and produced permanent changes in the debate over urban renewal and the future of cities.
In opposition to the kind of large-scale, bulldozing government intervention in city planning associated with Robert Moses and with federal slum-clearing projects, Jacobs proposed a renewal from the ground up, emphasizing mixed use rather than exclusively residential or commercial districts, and drawing on the human vitality of existing neighborhoods: "Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties.... Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves." Although Jacobs's lack of experience as either architect or city planner drew criticism, The Death and Life of Great American Cities was quickly recognized as one of the most original and powerfully argued books of its day. It was variously praised as "the most refreshing, provocative, stimulating, and exciting study of this greatest of our problems of living which I have seen" (Harrison Salisbury) and "a magnificent study of what gives life and spirit to the city" (William H. Whyte).
Jacobs is married to an architect, who she says taught her enough to become an architectural writer. They have two sons and a daughter. In 1968 they moved to Toronto, where Jacobs has often assumed an activist role in matters relating to development and has been an adviser on the reform of the city's planning and housing policies. She was a leader in the successful campaign to block construction of a major expressway on the grounds that it would do more harm than good, and helped prevent the demolition of an entire neighborhood downtown. She has been a Canadian citizen since 1974. Her writings include The Economy of Cities (1969); The Question of Separatism (1980), a consideration of the issue of sovereignty for Quebec; Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984), a major study of the importance of cities and their regions in the global economy; and her most recent book, Systems of Survival (1993).
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