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The Death and Life of Great American Cities [Paperback]

Jane Jacobs
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 1992
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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Product Description


"The most refreshing, provacative, stimulating and exciting study of this [great problem] which I have seen. It fairly crackles with bright honesty and common sense."—Harrison Salisbury, 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 The Organization Man

About the Author

Jane Jacobs was the legendary author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a work that has never gone out of print and that has transformed the disciplines of urban planning and city architecture. Her other major works include The Economy of Cities, Systems of Survival, The Nature of Economies and Dark Age Ahead. She died in 2006.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks-the pedestrian parts of the streets-serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Urban Work July 13 2004
When one begins to talk about city planning and urban land use, the name Jane Jacobs almost always comes up in the conversation. Jacobs is without question the leading scholar attacking the modern urban theories of development. If you ask any average suburban soccer mom or dad what the problem is with the city, they almost always say "it is too crowded!"
Jacobs is able to show that the real problem with cities isn't overpopulation - rather, it is exactly the opposite! The major problem with cities today is that they aren't dense enough. Empty sidewalks are inviting only to criminals. Children, shop keepers, and families hate an empty sidewalk.
Furthermore, city planners compound the situation by moving businesses (and therefore commerce) away from residences - thus resulting in a further decline of sidewalk traffic.
If you're going to be involved in city government, planning, or land use, you should definitely read this book. I'm a small government conservative, and lots of other conservatives are scared by Jacobs -- but let me tell you -- this is the future of America. We should accept and embrace this urban challenge.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that changed my thinking Jan. 17 2001
This is one of the books that made me realize what makes a city work and what makes it fail: Jacobs emphasizes that a healthy city neighborhood is created not by one "big box" destination like a convention center or a stadium, but by hundreds of little walkable destinations. Buffalo's downtown is a classic example: the Chippewa St. area (dominated by half a dozen little bars and coffeehouses) is relatively vibrant, while the areas near the convention center and stadium are dead, dead, dead. Similarly, in Cleveland the Warehouse District/Flats area (dominated by small, walkable businesses) are year-round destinations, while the areas surrounding the much-touted stadia and Rock Hall of Fame are utterly deserted after dark except on game days.
In response to the reviewer from N.H. who said Jacobs vindicates conservatism: I don't completely agree. Jacobs' work criticizes liberal reliance on big government housing/urban renewal projects, but is equally critical of big government highway projects that a lot of conservatives seem to like.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A suggested movie to set the tone for the book Sept. 23 2003
By A Customer
I highly reccommend that anyone who reads this book download the movie "the dynamic city" (its free and legal) from the Prelinger Archives at archive.org - this video will show the reader the ideology in the urban planning world at the time this book was written and what Jane Jacobs showed us to be ineffective. A high speed connection would be best for the download.
This is the best book I have read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars inspiring & surprisingly accessible March 20 2004
By A Customer
This book reads like a novel rather than an ideological tome. If you think of it that way, the city is the protagonist and you feel like you're reading a bildundgsroman about this much put upon but always fascinating central character. Wow. Somebody recommended a Modern Library edition. I have to concur because this edition (paperback) is badly designed and hard to read. It's worth getting a nicer edition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jane Jacobs = GR8 May 6 2003
"It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give. If so, there is little hope for our cities or probably much else in our society."
This is a book about understanding cities and understanding scientifically what makes them thrive and sustain themselves. It also delves into the history of the forces that made them what they are, and the methods that will need to be brought to bear if we intend to create life again in our downtowns.
Jacobs really lays it down, giving us a comprehensive look at how great cities work. I'd recommend this book to students of city planning, Architecture, and anybody who is interested in developing an understanding of why things are the way they are.
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5.0 out of 5 stars New tools for looking at the world. Jan. 10 2004
By algo41
At the end of this book Jacobs refers to a seminal work in the evolving science of organized complexity. Yet her method of studying cities- what makes them work successfully and what causes them to fail - reminds me more of some of the 16th/17th century physical scientists such as Galileo. Like them, she looked at her world free of the misconceptions and implicit assumptions of the "authorities", the city planners who used deduction from false premises rather than induction from detailed observation. Jacobs is a fantastic observer. Like the early scientists she is then able to generalize, always mindful of the limitations of her generalizations, and like the earlier scientists (cf. Galileo and ship building) she is interested in practical technology (in her case practical policy). While copyrighted in 1961, this book is all too relevant today: while some of its ideas are mainstream, we are still making many of the same errors. She draws her observations from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and for the reader familiar with those cities, especially the first three, there is an added dimension. I give this book 5 stars, because it provided me with new intellectual tools for analyzing the world, and it is fun applying them. At the same time, I will say that it is longer than it needs to be. Internalizing a concept, even one that may sound like common sense once it is enunciated, benefits from a certain amount of repetition and many examples, but there is too much repetition here.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great book, great shipping
the book had a little bit of wear on the pages, meaning they were dog eared. It was probably due to the shipping.
Published 13 months ago by Michael Catalfamo
1.0 out of 5 stars So many typos! Great book, but don't buy this edition!
I'd agree with most of the glowing praise for this book. It's fantastic. Good classic read about cities, and it's still relevant. BUT... I must say that this edition is awful. Read more
Published on July 26 2012 by N Burge
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Please!
Required reading! An excellent ongoing resource for planning professionals and communities. Can we please have this for Kindle? I do not want to buy the paper copy.
Published on July 12 2012 by Plannerjax
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
This book should be required reading for all city planners, building contractors, Architects, and design professionals. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2010 by E. L. Abrams
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
It would be perfect if there was a French translation available. If so I'd buy it without thinking twice! Read more
Published on July 14 2009 by Maria I. Zerboni
5.0 out of 5 stars great
This is a great book. I read it on the subway and never lost interest. Even today it helps open your eyes to bad planning that occurs in cities that kills what otherwise could be... Read more
Published on March 16 2004 by Steven G. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-have!!
The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a genius book. Words cannot explain how powerful and convincing this book is, you have to buy it yourself to understand. Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2004 by Matt
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and right on
This book is an amazing analysis of cities and how they work. Jacobs begins by observing the city around her, New York. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Why to Read This Book
1. It's accessable. It's an easy read. Forget the cliff notes version or some secondary source -- totally unnecessary.
2. It contains counter intutitive insights. Read more
Published on June 26 2003 by Generic Guy
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