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The first time I read this book was when I was in planning school (Illinois Institute if Technology) in the mid-1970's. I thought this book was a must-read for anyone interested in the culture, and future of cities.
Now, 40 years later, some things are different. This is still a fabulous book and a must read, but there are caveats.
Ms. Jacob's I think, over values the physical structure of the city as being the determining factor in whether or not a given area is "successful" or vibrant, while understating the important influence of some demographic megatrends.
She underestimates, I think, the importance of WWII and the demographic ripple this caused. 16 million boys went to war, 16 million men came home, each a changed man. Few wanted to return to the "old neighborhood". Most wanted to start families, get a job, and settle done. The combination of this and the automobile was deadly for city centers. Most vets wanted out, and left the city centers with an aging population.
Another thing; new built neighborhoods tend to fill up with mostly younger people, so the neighborhoods built in the boom years of the 1920's were 35-40 years old in the late 50's, early 60's,and there populations were aging and the buildings themselves were getting a little worn-out. Examples of this would be Morningside Heights in NY and Hyde Park and Uptown in Chicago. All these areas have, or are undergoing significant gentrification since the time JJ wrote the book. This gentrification was mostly spontaneous, driven by a new generation that wanted to live in the city, that found the old architecture of the neighborhoods pleasing, and found good value in the real estate.
There are many neighborhoods in older cities that have far less density then JJ prescribes as a minimum, and are successful, vital and safe. Consider Wicker Park and Lakeview in Chicago,
Uptown New Orleans, various sections of Milwaukee, Louisville, Seattle, Houston and many others that have come alive in the last few decades, and the main reason why is not the physical characteristic of the neighborhood, although this helps, but the influx of young people and families
who want to live in a given area. This brings me to the next criticism of JJ's book; The movement of younger people into a city area is mostly employment-driven. In cities where there are jobs, young people will move in. In cities where there are no jobs, people will move out.
Her arguments against urban renewal were spot on, and she was instrumental in helping to stop the urban renewal machine, which I think did more permanent damage to the city then the Luftwaffe did to London in WWII (St. Louis is the most egregious example of this)
All in all I would say this is a great book, but I am sure if JJ were alive today to see what has happened in cities since the book was written, she would be surprised at how many of the dull, failing neighborhoods have come alive.
Review: The Death and Life of Great American CitiesUser Review - Mark Abersold - Goodreads
This is pretty much the bible of modern urban planning, and it's definitely a great read if that is a subject that interests you. It delves pretty deeply into the topic matter and as such if you're ... Read full review