The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane JacobsA direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobss monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.
What Jane Jacobs Saw
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Becoming Jane Jacobs by peter l. Were not old buildings the expression of dilapidation and decay, in effect the necrotic tissue of the city? That they were beneficial, let alone a necessity, seemed patently absurd. I happened to be fond of old buildings, but I regarded this as sentimentality on my part, much like the sentimentality in which Edward Hopper indulged when painting forlorn mansions and defeated storefronts. Every business, she explained, is a frail and delicate thing. It cannot sustain the high overhead of new construction; only certain categories of businesses can do that. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings.
See a Problem?
I n Donald Barthelme's short story "I Bought a Little City" , the narrator decides one day to purchase Galveston, Texas, where he then tears down some houses, shoots 6, dogs, and rearranges what remains into the shape of a giant Mona Lisa jigsaw puzzle visible only from the air. As with much of Barthelme's work, the premise seems so absurd that one can't help but shake it until a metaphor falls out, and here one might well assume that, in the words of the novelist Donald Antrim, "I Bought a Little City" is "a take on the role that a writer has in writing a story — playing god, in a certain way". But Barthelme first arrived in Greenwich Village, where he would live for most of the rest of his life, in the winter of , just as local campaigners were narrowly defeating an attempt by the despotic city planner Robert Moses to run a lane elevated highway through the middle of Washington Square Park. For decades, Moses really did play god with New York, and for anyone who ever lived within his kingdom, "I Bought a Little City', which was first published in the New Yorker, might not have seemed so absurd after all. Those local campaigners were led by Jane Jacobs, another great Greenwich Village writer. For a rigorous and polemical manual of urban planning, it achieved a remarkably wide readership, perhaps because it's such a rare joy to read a book about cities written by someone who actually seems to appreciate what makes them fun to live in.