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The Economy of Cities Mass Market Paperback – February 12, 1970

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Editorial Reviews


"The Economy of Cities is an astonishing book. It blows cobwebs from the mind, and challenges assumptions one hadn't even realized one had made. It should prove of major importance."

-- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"This book is radiant with ideas about what makes cities rich or poor, how cities grow, and how city growth affects national economies."

-- The New Yorker

"What Mrs. Jacobs has done ... is to begin to formulate a badly needed urban myth for our now almost urbanized society...."

-- Herbert J. Gans, New Republic

"The book is... timely, and if it will irritate some of the experts it will also help bring some neglected issues and theories into public focus. This ... has always been Mrs. Jacobs' most notable taient and her most constructive contribution."

-- Charles Abrams, The New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher

"An astonishing book. It blows cobwebs from the mind, and challenges assumptions one hadn't even realized one had made."--The New York Times

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Pr. edition (February 12, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039470584X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394705842
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.6 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Lancelot R. Fletcher on March 11, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
The title of this book is slightly misleading, because the thesis of the book is that cities play an essential role in the process of economic development. Although its anecdotal style gives this book a disarmingly unsystematic appearance, this is a profound book. It is easily one of the most important books written during the 20th century. Economic development is something about which conventional marginal utility economics has very little to say. The Economy of Cities, therefore, fills a kind of void. It stands to conventional economics in much the same position as quantum physics stands to classical physics.
A simply wonderful book.
Lancelot Fletcher
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. Schultz VINE VOICE on July 4, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is almost as good as Jacobs' must-read classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Whereas Death and Life deals more with how to foster vitality in individual city neighborhoods, this work deals with the broad importance of thriving urban areas. Here Jacobs gives the reader an understanding of how economically healthy and diverse urban areas are essential to creating healthy economies in general - and more than that, to ultimately creating a healthy global economy. Her ideas fly in the face of much conventional wisdom. But I think she proves the essence of her case with pages of compelling, reasoned argument.

Most reformers, many of whom start out with earnest good intentions, end up wreaking havoc and plunging their countries into tyranny because they attack their countries' economic problems from the wrong end. Most reformers in recent history, from Pancho Villa, through Stalin and Mao, down to current day missionaries - set out to "help" struggling economies by first digging into the dirt of the poorest rural areas. They assume that change must start in the agricultural sector. So they reapportion land; they attempt to introduce modern technology to subsistence farmers; they establish schools, clinics, and communal wells in the rural areas. But often, these efforts come to naught. Indeed they frequently backfire and leave area residents worse off than before.

A typical scenario of the type Jacobs cites - a volunteer worker sets up a well in a parched rural area of some Third World country. But soon after the volunteer leaves, a valve in the well breaks. And there is no way for local residents to get a replacement valve. There is no nearby urban industry to supply valves or any other replacement parts for anything.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Paula L. Craig on October 26, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book has some great insights but is getting a bit outdated. I thought the section on the origin of agriculture was fascinating stuff, but I'd like to know how Ms. Jacobs' theories square with recent research.

The comparison of Manchester and Birmingham was great. I think Ms. Jacobs is basically correct with her analysis of what it takes to make a vibrant, prosperous city. Her basic recommendations for city layout--small, short blocks, high concentrations of people walking, a mix of buildings of various types and ages--are very good. She is right on point with her criticism of urban renewal programs and freeways.

Ms. Jacobs' analysis of how business development occurs is fun to read and very relevant to today. She makes it very clear that rural towns that try to develop by attracting a local assembly plant or the like for a large company are barking up the wrong tree.

The book has some problems. Ms. Jacobs dismisses problems with resource depletion far too easily as the product of a stagnant economy. She also dismisses population growth, seeing it as a symptom of a growing economy, not a problem. There is of course some truth to this, but in my opinion migration is perfectly adequate to take care of local labor shortages. The side effects of nationwide and worldwide population growth are too severe to be treated lightly as Ms. Jacobs does.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book, written in the 1960's, couldn't be more relevant today, in our age of outsourcing and loss of jobs. In Jacob's thesis, cities must constantly evolve, developing new products, or they will stagnate and decline, as their old exports wither. She makes a good case that efficiency, as reflected in the large scale, focused enterprise, can often be the enemy of innovation. This kind of logic has been incorporated into mainstream thought, in that many large corporations try to foster growth by establishing small entrepreneurial units. Jacobs provides a historical basis for this paradigm, as well as the detailed economics which shows it is not simply a matter of encouraging people to be entrepreneurial. Even more interesting to me, was Jacob's well supported argument that the earliest cities preceded and fostered the development of agriculture, not the other way around. I have read Robin Wright's Non-zero, The Logic of Human Destiny and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, both great books, yet Jacob's thesis was still new to me. The Economy of Cities has a certain amount of unnecessary repetition, but not as much as Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which I would also highly recommend despite that problem. Also, and this is not a major point, Jacobs recognizes that exports may contain inputs which have to be imported, but does not seem to see that import substitution may also rely on increasing the import of certain inputs - thereby overemphasizing the importance of import substitution relative to development of new exports (although if we could find a substitute for oil......). Despite having a mathematics and economics background, I did not find Jacob's D,N,A equation particularly enlightening, and advise the reader not to get hung up on it. Jacob's use of history as a series of case studies, and her ability to extract the proper lessons even when they defy conventional thinking, is far more important than any mathematical tools.
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