The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacob's influential book on urban planning was released in 1961.

Jane Jacobs

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 1960s, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane and delightfully epigrammatic, Jane Jacobs' tour de force is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It remains sensible, knowledgeable, readable and indispensable. (From Vintage)

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From the book

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. 

From The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs ©2011. Published by Modern Library.

Author interviews

Jane Jacobs on cities and the economy

4 years ago
Duration 11:21
Featured VideoUrban planning guru Jane Jacobs challenged the establishment with her ideas about cities and the economy.
Featured VideoOur 2002 interview with the inspiring Canadian "guru of cities" the late Jane Jacobs. One of the more fascinating tidbits you'll glean from this interview is why you might not want to drink pink lemonade...