Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Writer and activist Jane Jacobs had an urgent vision of urban spaces in the 1960s that retains relevance today

By Tiffany Lambert, Designers & Books November 27, 2013
The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
1961, Random House

A city cannot be a work of art.”

The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”

Citizens of big cities need fulcrum points where they can apply their pressures, and make their wills and their knowledge known and respected.”

This is what a city is, bits and pieces that supplement each other and support each other.”

Quotes can be found on pages 372, 50, 390, and 422 respectively.

"It is the fluidity of use, not homogeneity of architecture, that ties together city neighborhoods,” writes Jacobs (pg. 182). Diagram taken from chapter nine titled, “The need for small blocks.”

“As Americans seem to rediscover their sidewalks, and bike lanes begin to lace through our metropolises, it feels like we’re finally ready to listen to what Jacobs has to say,” commented Alissa Walker on her choice to include the 50th Anniversary edition of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs on her list of Notable Books of 2011. Those familiar with the American-Canadian journalist and author Jane Jacobs know her as a writer and activist on urban issues who challenged conventional modernist planning doctrines, instead advocating mixed use and diversity within cities. To Jacobs, successful cities were spontaneous and untidy. She supported the integration of building types and uses both new and old, and with an urgent vision, she championed the idea that people were central to the life of a city.

“What is so compelling about Jacobs,” writes Designers & Books contributor, architect, and urban planner Andrés Duany on his decision to include The Death and Life of Great American Cities on his book list, “is that real people with all their foibles come first.” The influential book has become a classic for both design professionals and the wider public since it was first published in 1961, and remains a staple reappearing on college syllabi year after year. Jacobs’s message and ideas about how to make livable cities are still relevant today.

Illustrations page from The Death and Life of Great American Cities
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