on 12 October 1996
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
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
on 21 May 2008
I found this book fascinating. I live and work in a country that has been badly planned since the war and that suffers from all the mistakes that Jane Jacobs describes. What astonishes me is that planning was not influenced by this book when it was written. Most if its lessons are self-evidently correct. Yet even today planners continue to zone for dead, empty streets and monopolistic commerce. It has opened my eyes and made me feel a little angry. I wasn't interested in planning or urbanisation before I read this book, but now I am.
on 23 December 2009
I couldn't actually put this book down, this book about urban planning from almost 50 years ago! But it contains so much sense, currency, intellect and elegance that it transcends not only its subject matter, but also geography and time. It is at once a book of treasure observations, enlightening insights and encompassing philosophies. I daresay anyone can learn something from Jane Jacobs.
The hardback is great as a present, especially as its cover is a photo of Jane herself. I can't help but feel drawn to this revelational work's author, as most readers who enjoy this book will do. So seeing her in her element, conversing and observing, brings one even closer to this very personal work.
on 9 June 2010
Good: commonsensical (or does it just seem so in retrospect?), imaginative, solutions-focused, people-oriented and persuasively argued. Bad: evidence is mostly anecdotal (despite her enthusiasm for the scientific method) and she labours her points.
Her point about not forcing successful people out via income segregation is well made - especially as this is still regularly suggested in the name of 'fairness'; and her discussions about public transport and the alternative to a proliferation of cars even more so.
Interesting though to consider how many of the advantages of city life (as she understood them) may not now exist - or at any rate may not be so marked - in the Information Age. New ideas, niche products, a wide variety of people: they can all be had virtually.
on 1 March 2013
Jane Jacobs is the Edmund Burke of urban planning. I doubt there's any compliment higher than that. In Death and Life she takes on the modernist planners and their grand projects, visions of 'urban renewal' and single-use neighborhoods, that she says create uneconomical, unnatural, isolated and deadening urban spaces.
Jacobs instead champions four factors that generate not only vibrancy, but economic viability.
1. Mixed uses, with different street activities at different times of the day
2. Short blocks, which allow high pedestrian permeability
3. A mixture of old and new buildings of various ages (and states of repair)
The examples here are a bit dated, but the book will make you think about your own environment and how we experience and use cities.
on 19 July 2007
I first encountered this book in the early 1980s when I was a geography student taking an Urban studies' course at Manchester University. I thought it was fantastic then and my own copy was very well thumbed. Somewhere in the course of several moves I have lost the book - but recently, with a geography student daughter of my own, I have been reminded of it and am so glad that I have tracked it down via Amazon - I have to admit that at the time I did not realise how influential Jane Jacobs was in her field. I hope it lives up to my recollections of it on rereading!
on 8 October 2004
A little slow, but then again, who else addresses the real conditions of city living without a load of fantasy academic nonsense? Jacobs highlights the issues and processes that transform city districts into hostlie or livable areas - and it's not planners and estate agents that she's thanking! Nice to see some actual research make its way into a useful, readable book on urban living / planning.
on 2 September 2011
A must read for those who think that the city is an unworkable mess and that sub-urban layouts are the best solution for the world populatioons. I think it makes a great argument for variety in life and the community spirit of living in close nit communities. Great easy read
on 21 June 2016
A wonderful book, rightly regarded as a classic, that will challenge your perceptions of out urban space and how we use it.Although it relates specifically to America, the ideas do transfer to a UK context. Jacobs' challenges many ideas that were gaining traction mid century- and makes claims that ring true yet still seem controversial. for example, she asks planners to guard against the idea of building dedicated play parks, and instead ensure the streets are wide enough to accommodate children's play. She's on to something- children are far safer playing in full view of their communities rather than in the fenced-in, isolated 'park' that is so common place both in private and publich housing developments. Highly recommended to all with an interest in community, architecture and sociology.
on 13 March 2014
great book! great cover, handling etc! i study architecture and it was really helpful for typing my essay. It shows mainly the life and death of american citis from the common peoples view and not from architectural one (i hope that helped you).