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The Death and Life of Great American Cities (50th Anniversary Edition) (Modern Library) 50 Anv Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679644330
ISBN-10: 0679644334
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Refreshing, provocative, stimulating and exciting . . . It fairly crackles with bright honesty and common sense.”—The New York Times
 
“One of the most remarkable books ever written about the city . . . a primary work. The research apparatus is not pretentious—it is the eye and the heart—but it has given us a magnificent study of what gives life and spirit to the city.”—William H. Whyte, author of City: Rediscovering the Center

About the Author

Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) was a writer and activist who championed new approaches to urban planning for more than forty years. Her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, became perhaps the most influential American text about the inner workings and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists. Her efforts to stop the building of downtown expressways and protect local neighborhoods invigorated community-based urban activism and helped end Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’ reign of power in New York City.
 
Jason Epstein is the recipient of many awards, including the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle, and the Curtis Benjamin Award given by the American Association of Publishers for enriching the world of books. For many years he was editorial director of Random House. He is the author of Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future and Eating.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; 50 Anv edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679644334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679644330
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.4 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will change the way you look at any city, including your own neighborhood.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the book is its use of common sense observations of patterns we have all seen, and participate in, but rarely pay attention to - after all, that's just the way it is, right? Turns out, what we experience as members of any neighborhood, and what the city planning and architects of our communities have in mind are all too often entirely different models.

What makes a successful community? What does it mean for a community to be successful? How does diversity come into play, why is it important, and how do we design our cities for it? Why do the planned communities feel so devoid of any sense of, well, community? How do you know if your neighborhood is on the decline?

Jane Jacobs tackles all of the above, and much more. You don't have to be an engineer, an architect, or a planner to appreciate the arguments - after all, given the meteoric rise and growth of cities, most of us today live in one. Well written, and very educational.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every person living in a city should read this book. Most of us who have studied Jane Jacobs are either architects, urbanists or simply interested in how cities work. However Jane Jacobs as an ordinary citizen that was worried about how modern urbanism has been destroying humanity's natural tendency to produce living spaces according to our social norms, and not because of our addiction to automobiles. The more people read this book, the closer we will be to fixing what modernism in urban design has done to enslave us to the use of autos, and how our lives have changed in a negative way by such design.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A nice, civilian look at urban life, specifically on the city sidewalk. Jacobs is informed, but not expert, and her writing reflects this. This is not a bad thing, as it gives a very human account of living in a city that architects and planners sometimes forget.

Note: this does not do a great job of showing how people relate to spaces as they move. The perspective of urban spaces is mostly static with characters coming and going. For this reason, it pairs well with Kevin Lynch's Image of the City, which focuses on the connections between locales to create a single, broad image.

This is required reading to participate in conversation on contemporary city planning and design.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jane Jacobs demonstrates a genius in understanding how failures in Urban Planning has affected the cities of the United States. She also has demonstrated that the social degradation and socioeconomic well being of our nation has been negatively effected by the stratification of our populations through current development patterns.
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Format: Hardcover
In her timeless study of what makes cities great, Jane Jacobs believes that cities must be first and foremost a celebration of the diversity and vitality of people. City streets are magical in that they can take people of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and ethnicity, and carve out a new identity and sense of belonging for them. It's these social bonds (what Jacobs calls the "mixture of primary uses") that make city streets great, and for Jacobs it's the street that brings out what's best about people. Streets that permit people to interact naturally are not only safer but more vibrant and interesting -- leading to a sense of community as well as artistic inspiration. That being the case, streets must be placed paramount, and everything else about a city -- including districts, landmarks, and parks -- must revolve around the life on the streets.

This is a concept that's difficult for city planners to understand, and Jacobs believes that planners are inhibited by a lack of imagination masquerading as grandiosity, and a fear and disgust of people pretending to be foresight.

This is a brilliant book, and is as true and as refreshing and as urgent as it was when it was first published almost half a century ago.
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Not that urban planning is as important as the foundations of physics, but Jacobs strikes me as the urban planning equivalent of Isaac Newton. Neither invented their subject matter in a void. Instead, they built upon the knowledge accumulated by their predecessors. But neither accepted the prevalent interpretations of that knowledge. Both sought to find new and more accurate explanations, Newton by well-constructed experiments and Jacobs by careful observation of the vast examples offered by New York City. Both were criticized for taking credit for work that had been done by others, but history has vindicated both and recognized their achievements.

Jane Jacobs came to urban planning through a side door, which may explain why she blazed new trails. An indifferent high school student, she began her working life doing clerical work for journalists. Gradually finding her passions in life, she continued her education at a college level, taking a wide range of courses. She was also given opportunities to write, mostly about the neighborhoods of New York City. Her enthusiasm for city life led to attendance at several national conferences on urban planning issues.

But Jacobs was dissatisfied with what the others at the conferences expounded. She felt a persistent skepticism about the theories of that were behind the urban planning decisions of the 1950s. She retreated to her home in Greenwich Village, observed the street life below, formulated alternative theories, and looked further in the city to see if her theories held up. They did.

A scan of her table of contents can get the urban planning adrenaline flowing. "The uses of sidewalks: assimilating children","The need for primary mixed uses", "The need for small blocks", "The curse of border vacuums".
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