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Customer Review

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic exposition of how cities work. A must-read., October 11, 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library Series) (Hardcover)
Even 35 years after it was written, The Death and Life of Great American
Cities remains the classic book on how cities work and
how urban planners and others have naively destroyed
functioning cities. It is widely known for its incisive
treatment of those who would tear down functioning neighborhoods
and destroy the lives and livelihoods of people for the sake of a
groundless but intellectually appealing daydream.

But although many see it as a polemic against urban planning,
the best parts of it, the parts that have endeared it to
many who love cities, are quite different. Death and Life
is, first of all, a work of observation. The illustrations
are all around us, she says, and we must go and look. She
shows us parts of the city that are alive -- the streets,
she says, are the city that we see, and it is the streets and
sidewalks that carry the most weight -- and find the patterns
that help us not merely see but understand. She shows us the city as
an ecology -- a system of interactions that is more than
merely the laying out of buildings as if they were a
child's wooden blocks.

But observation can mean simply the noting of objects.
Ms. Jacobs writes beautifully, lovingly, of New York
City and other urban places. Her piece "The Ballet of
Hudson Street" is both an observation of events on the
Greenwich Village street where she lived and a prose poem
describing the comings and goings of the people, the rhythms
of the shopkeepers and the commuters and others who use the
street.

In this day when "inner city" is a synonym for poverty
and hopelessness, it is important to be reminded that
cities are literally the centers of civilization, of
business, of culture. This is just as true today as it was
in the early 1960s when this was written. We in North
America owe Jane Jacobs a great debt for her insight and her
eloquence.
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