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The Death and Life of Great American Cities Paperback – December 1, 1992
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A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured.
In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs's monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.
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- Publisher : Vintage; Reissue edition (December 1, 1992)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 458 pages
- ISBN-10 : 067974195X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679741954
- Item Weight : 12.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.14 x 0.95 x 7.96 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #9,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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And from the point of view of the humble sidewalk, Jane Jacobs builds a kind of theory of cities: what works and what doesn’t. She makes points that, once she makes them, are nothing more nor less than common sense. She points out that we like interesting things and that what we, as people are most interested in, is other people. So we like to people-watching. And that means we need different, truly different, buildings on our sidewalks. It just doesn’t work to have a part of the city that’s all “about culture” and another part that’s all “about business” and yet a third that’s “all about” housing. We don’t live our lives like that and we should not expect our city to live if every aspect of human life is segregated from every other aspect.
It’s fine—no, it’s healthy—if people live next to a culture center, next to a place of worship, next to a place of business, and next to a park and playground. It means that at all times of the day, every day of the week, you will see different and interesting people on your streets. Sundays, you will see families dressed for church (and teenagers dressed “specially” for church); during the day on weekdays, you will see people in their business attire hurrying to and fro with their important tasks; at lunchtime you will see mothers (and these days increasingly fathers) pushing their baby strollers in the park and at night everyone gathers at the local watering holes and restaurants. If that is what you see where you live, you live in a safe and good neighborhood. A neighborhood where buildings are different not just because they have different paint but because they serve different functions. And that neighborhood is great for business. A baker, a coffee shop, a pub, a bar, a shoe repair shop—all will flourish in a neighborhood like this.
The way to destroy a city, on the other hand, is to destroy a neighborhood by transplanting it into a project. It doesn’t matter how poor that neighborhood is. There are people who live in that place who are genuinely attached to it. A famous story is told (not in this book but as an example) of the Mother of all the Rothschilds not wishing to leave the Jewish Ghetto in Vienna. That is where her friends were and that is where she wanted to live. And no matter how poor a place seems to an outsider, people do put down roots there. And those roots mean that they, the people who are attached to that place, can make it into a thriving, interesting neighborhood. Just like (or even better than) the one I described just now. All they need is a little help: loans from banks to start a business, short blocks, encouraging the kinds of uses the people want. If there is one thing Jane Jacobs is adamant about it’s that a city is about the people who live in it and so you can’t impose a great idea on them-no matter who they are—it has to come from within the community. Because only then will you have a community. And given half a chance, that community will grow and will prosper.
All that, and more, is in this relatively slim (for an urban planning book) volume. A volume that has been (rightly I think) been called a classic. Not just because of its message which is just as relevant today as it was when Jane Jacobs wrote it but because of the writing style. Jane Jacobs is obviously well-read and well-traveled but she does not feel the need t showcase that she read a book or two once. She writes in simple, easy-to-read prose and the lessons she teaches the reader are all the more memorable for that.
I highly recommend it.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a no-nonsense guide on how to make cities lively, vibrant, humane places to live and work. If you are involved in government, architecture, or design, READ THIS. Jane Jacobs provides a candid framework for understanding *what* makes cities work and *why*. And she's got ZERO patience for the abstract musings of planners like Robert Moses, who valued aesthetic perfection and geometric orderliness over the messy, varied needs of any human population. Over 50 years later, Jacobs' insights ring true as ever. Get this book!