The Death and Life of Great American Cities book review

The Death and Life of Great American CitiesThe Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This classic holds up astonishingly well after 53 years. Jane Jacobs identifies or predicts problems that continue to affect cities like San Francisco, LA, Philadelphia, and most notably Detroit. The contributions here are historical, sociological, and theoretical. It’s great to see how much of her sentiment, spirit, and insight are now a part of city planning, but we miss larger lessons still about the level of complexity and the need for greater interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collaboration to handle the unique problems cities pose.

Smart Cities are meant to be one answer to this, but they quickly fall afoul of Jacobs’ concerns about the then new approaches to cities looking for averages from data on population, geography, income, etc. These are important for planning but don’t handle complexity around residents’ behavior, especially behaviors hard to quantify at all. Reading this in association with Jan Gehl’s How to Study Public Life, which was directly inspired by Jacobs’ insights, was really helpful and recommended to others.

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