The Death and Life of Great American Cities (50th Anniversary Edition)

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Overview

Thirty years after its publication, 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,...
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Overview

Thirty years after its publication, 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, Jacobs's small masterpiece is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities.It is sensible, knowledgeable, readable, indispensable.The author has written a new foreword for this Modern Library edition.

From the Hardcover edition.

The classic work that set a new agenda for urban planning.

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Editorial Reviews

WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women
In this ground-breaking work written over 30 years ago, Jane Jacobs not only threw a monkey wrench into conventional thinking on the structure of cities and helped reshape urban planning, but she did so as a non-expert and as a woman–both historical taboos in the world of intellectual analysis. With flowing, descriptive prose, Jane's work leads us to think about each element of a city–sidewalks, parks, neighborhoods, government, economy–as a syergistic unit both encompassing structure and going beyond it to the functioning dynamics of our habitats. On a revealing journey through the problems of modern urban centers, artificially engineered to meet political and economic agendas, we arrive at a greater understanding of the intrinsic nature of our cities–as they should be.
—Ilene Rosoff
From the Publisher

“Refreshing, provocative, stimulating and exciting . . . It fairly crackles with bright honesty and common sense.”—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 City: Rediscovering the Center

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307969651
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 710,050
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) was a writer and activist who championed new approaches to urban planning for more than forty years. Her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, became perhaps the most influential American text about the inner workings and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists. Her efforts to stop the building of downtown expressways and protect local neighborhoods invigorated community-based urban activism and helped end Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’ reign of power in New York City.
 
Jason Epstein is the recipient of many awards, including the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle, and the Curtis Benjamin Award given by the American Association of Publishers for enriching the world of books. For many years he was editorial director of Random House. He is the author of Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future and Eating.

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Read an Excerpt

Foreword to the Modern Library Edition

When I began work on this book in 1958, I expected merely to describe the civilizing and enjoyable services that good city street life casually provides-and to deplore planning fads and architectural fashions that were expunging these necessities and charms instead of helping to strengthen them. Some of Part One of this book: that's all I intended.

But learning and thinking about city streets and the trickiness of city parks launched me into an unexpected treasure hunt. I quickly found that the valuables in plain sight-streets and parks-were intimately mingled with clues and keys to other peculiarities of cities. Thus one discovery led to another, then another--.Some of the findings from the hunt fill the rest of this book. Others, as they turned up, have gone into four further books. Obviously, this book exerted an influence on me, and lured me into my subsequent life's work. But has it been influential otherwise? My own appraisal is yes and no.

Some people prefer doing their workaday errands on foot, or feel they would like to if they lived in a place where they could. Other people prefer hopping into the car to do errands, or would like to if they had a car. In the old days, before automobiles, some people liked ordering up carriages or sedan chairs and many wished they could. But as we know from novels, biographies, and legends, some people whose social positions required them to ride-except for rural rambles-wistfully peered out at passing street scenes and longed to participate in their camaraderie, bustle, and promises of surprise and adventure.

In a kind of shorthand, we can speak of foot people and car people. This book was instantly understood by foot people, both actual and wishful. They recognized that what it said jibed with their own enjoyment, concerns, and experiences, which is hardly surprising, since much of the book's information came from observing and listening to foot people. They were collaborators in the research. Then, reciprocally, the book collaborated with foot people by giving legitimacy to what they already knew for themselves. Experts of the time did not respect what foot people knew and valued. They were deemed old-fashioned and selfish-troublesome sand in the wheels of progress. It is not easy for uncredentialed people to stand up to the credentialed, even when the so-called expertise is grounded in ignorance and folly. This book turned out to be helpful ammunition against such experts. But it is less accurate to call this effect "influence" than to see it as corroboration and collaboration. Conversely, the book neither collaborated with car people nor had an influence on them. It still does not, as far as I can see.

The case of students of city planning and architecture is similarly mixed, but with special oddities. At the time of the book's publication, no matter whether the students were foot or car people by experience and temperament, they were being rigorously trained as anti-city and anti-street designers and planners: trained as if they were fanatic car people and so was everybody else. Their teachers had been trained or indoctrinated that way too. So in effect, the whole establishment concerned with the physical form of cities (including bankers, developers, and politicians who had assimilated the planning and architectural visions and theories) acted as gatekeepers protecting forms and visions inimical to city life. However, among architectural students especially, and to some extent among planning students, there were foot people. To them, the book made sense. Their...

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3
Pt. 1 The Peculiar Nature of Cities
2 The uses of sidewalks: safety 29
3 The uses of sidewalks: contact 55
4 The uses of sidewalks: assimilating children 74
5 The uses of neighborhood parks 89
6 The uses of city neighborhoods 112
Pt. 2 The Conditions for City Diversity
7 The generators of diversity 143
8 The need for primary mixed uses 152
9 The need for small blocks 178
10 The need for aged buildings 187
11 The need for concentration 200
12 Some myths about diversity 222
Pt. 3 Forces of Decline and Regeneration
13 The self-destruction of diversity 241
14 The curse of border vacuums 257
15 Unslumming and slumming 270
16 Gradual money and cataclysmic money 291
Pt. 4 Different Tactics
17 Subsidizing dwellings 321
18 Erosion of cities or attrition of automobiles 338
19 Visual order: its limitations and possibilities 372
20 Salvaging projects 392
21 Governing and planning districts 405
22 The kind of problem a city is 428
Index 449
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