Jane Jacobs
Random House, New York, 2002, 1992; originally published 1961, English
Nonfiction, Urban Design
Paperback, 492 pages
ISBN: 9780375508738
Suggested Retail Price: $16.00

From the Publisher. The Death and Life of Great American Cities was described by the New York Times as “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning. . . . [It] can also be seen in a much larger context. It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book’s arguments.” Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jane Jacobs’s tour de force is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities.

In prose of outstanding immediacy, 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.

Also see The Death and Life of Great American Cities: 50th Anniversary Edition, a Designers & Books Notable Book of 2011.

On 5 book lists
Andrés Duany

At intervals of a decade or so I reread what I consider to be the great books of architecture. The real standbys have been Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York and Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities. Depending on my stage in life—and on ambient circumstance—they become different books. Death and Life is now ascendant in my estimation, while the others are sounding a bit foolish for the first time. The books haven’t changed of course, but I have, and so has the general prospect. I am now a 37-year veteran of practice; and the 21st century is rather up to its neck in environmental, economic, and social crises. The conceptual and the aesthetic now seem to matter much less; and what does is good, practical know-how about normal humans and the places that serve them well—particularly the modest ones. What is so compelling about Jacobs is that real people with all their foibles come first; and architects, when appearing at all, are dangerous fools. This coincides with my personal experience. I must emphasize that the modest pragmatism that I now value is not a surrender of ideals, but the result of mature consideration. To read Jacobs is to be in the presence of an adult. This time around the others read variously like the works of a charming scoundrel, a wild-eyed teenager, and a self-indulgent child. I leave it up to you to guess which is which.

Craig Dykers

It is impossible to ignore this book if you have any degree of civility.

Zack McKown

Jacobs’s writing remains invaluable to discussions of sustainability, especially in terms of the social health of communities.

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