The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Author Jane Jacobs
Language English
Publisher Random House, New York
Publication date
OCLC 500754
Followed by The Economy of Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a 1961 book by writer and activist Jane Jacobs. The book is a critique of 1950s urban planning policy, which it holds responsible for the decline of many city neighborhoods in the United States.[1] Going against the common wisdom of the age, it proposes new ideas that it says would ensure organic vibrancy in urban America.


Reserving her most vitriolic criticism for the "rationalist" planners (specifically Robert Moses) of the 1950s and 1960s, Jacobs argued that modernist urban planning rejects the city, because it rejects human beings living in a community characterized by layered complexity and seeming chaos. The modernist planners used deductive reasoning to find principles by which to plan cities. Among these policies she considered urban renewal the most violent, and separation of uses (i.e., residential, industrial, commercial) the most prevalent. These policies, she claimed, destroy communities and innovative economies by creating isolated, unnatural urban spaces.

In their place Jacobs advocated "four generators of diversity" that "create effective economic pools of use":[2]

Her aesthetic can be considered opposite to that of the modernists, upholding redundancy and vibrancy against order and efficiency. She frequently cites New York City's Greenwich Village as an example of a vibrant urban community. The Village, like many similar communities, may well have been preserved, at least in part, by her writing and activism. The book also played a major role in slowing the urban redevelopment of Toronto, Canada, where Jacobs was involved in the campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway.[3]

Orthodox urbanism[edit]

Jane Jacobs says in her workThe Death and Life of Great American Cities that the sources of the orthodox urbanism are:


The book continues to be Jacobs' most influential, and is still widely read by both planning professionals and the general public.[not specific enough to verify] It has been translated into six languages and has sold over a quarter-million copies.[4] Urban theorist Lewis Mumford, while finding fault with her methodology, encouraged Jacobs' early writings in the New York Review of Books.[5] Robert Caro has cited Jacobs' book as the strongest influence on The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Jane Jacobs' Radical Legacy". Peter Dreier. Summer 2006. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  2. ^ p. 151.
  3. ^ Cervero, Robert (1998). The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry, p. 87. Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-591-6.
  4. ^ Ward, Stephen: Jane Jacobs: Critic of the modernist approach to urban planning who believed that cities were places for people in The Independent, 3 June 2006
  5. ^ "Jane Jacobs Interviewed by Jim Kunstler for Metropolis Magazine, March 2001". Retrieved 2006-04-23.