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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 Cities

User Review  - Ken-ichi - Goodreads

Knowing nothing about urban planning and eager to find a foil for revisiting Wendell Berry, I was eager to pick up this classic. The good: very interesting set of ideas about cities that I had not ... Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Sarah - Goodreads

Absolutely fantastic, and a must read for anyone who enjoys living in a city, and wants to contribute to its further success and livability. Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - lysa - Goodreads

'This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.' (3) Thus begins a CONSTRUCTIVE critique that is refreshing, direct and accessible to the reader. Though it was written in the early ... Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Christopher Lehmann - Goodreads

Took about a year, but very much worth the effort. Nothing renegade or fashionable here. Just a reasonable sensibility that anyone - anyone who loves cities and wonders why they sometimes work and sometimes don't - will appreciate. Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Diana Lowry - Goodreads

A classic. Yet still relevant. Amazing to think Jacobs wrote it decades ago, and yet cities continue to languish and under-perform when a good dose of common sense and a healthy shifting of priorities ... Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Jeff - Goodreads

I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of the “social structure of sidewalk life” and the focus on the people who create the “ballet of Hudson Street” and other neighborhoods. She details the ... Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Amanda O'donnell - Goodreads

Gave me a whole new perspective on NYC. Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - Kim - Goodreads

A planning classic for good reason. Jacobs has a lot of great ideas based mainly off of her own astute observations about cities from her experiences in (primarily) New York and Boston. She cuts ... Read full review

Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

User Review  - itpdx - Goodreads

Fascinating! It is truly amazing that this was published in 1961. Jacobs tells what makes cities safe, lively places and what damage city planners were doing trying to apply unfounded ideas to urban ... Read full review


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