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Foreword to the Modern Library Edition

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.

Some people prefer doing their workaday errands on foot, or feel they would like to if they lived in a place where they could. Other people prefer hopping into the car to do errands, or would like to if they had a car. In the old days, before automobiles, some people liked ordering up carriages or sedan chairs and many wished they could. But as we know from novels, biographies, and legends, some people whose social positions required them to ride-except for rural rambles-wistfully peered out at passing street scenes and longed to participate in their camaraderie, bustle, and promises of surprise and adventure.

In a kind of shorthand, we can speak of foot people and car people. This book was instantly understood by foot people, both actual and wishful. They recognized that what it said jibed with their own enjoyment, concerns, and experiences, which is hardly surprising, since much of the book's information came from observing and listening to foot people. They were collaborators in the research. Then, reciprocally, the book collaborated with foot people by giving legitimacy to what they already knew for themselves. Experts of the time did not respect what foot people knew and valued. They were deemed old-fashioned and selfish-troublesome sand in the wheels of progress. It is not easy for uncredentialed people to stand up to the credentialed, even when the so-called expertise is grounded in ignorance and folly. This book turned out to be helpful ammunition against such experts. But it is less accurate to call this effect "influence" than to see it as corroboration and collaboration. Conversely, the book neither collaborated with car people nor had an influence on them. It still does not, as far as I can see.

The case of students of city planning and architecture is similarly mixed, but with special oddities. At the time of the book's publication, no matter whether the students were foot or car people by experience and temperament, they were being rigorously trained as anti-city and anti-street designers and planners: trained as if they were fanatic car people and so was everybody else. Their teachers had been trained or indoctrinated that way too. So in effect, the whole establishment concerned with the physical form of cities (including bankers, developers, and politicians who had assimilated the planning and architectural visions and theories) acted as gatekeepers protecting forms and visions inimical to city life. However, among architectural students especially, and to some extent among planning students, there were foot people. To them, the book made sense. Their teachers (though not all) tended to consider it trash or "bitter, coffee-house rambling" as one planner put it. Yet the book, curiously enough, found its way onto required or optional reading lists-sometimes, I suspect, to arm students with awareness of the benighted ideas they would be up against as practitioners. Indeed, one university teacher told me just that. But for foot people among students, the book was subversive. Of course their subversion was by no means all my doing. Other authors and researchers-notably William H. Whyte-were also exposing the unworkability and joylessness of anti-city visions. In London, editors and writers of The Architectural Review were already up to the same thing in the mid-1950s.

Nowadays, many architects, and some among the younger generation of planners, have excellent ideas-beautiful, ingenious ideas-for strengthening city life. They also have the skills to carry out their plans. These people are a far cry from the ruthless, heedless city manipulators I have castigated.

But here we come to something sad. Although the numbers of arrogant old gatekeepers have dwindled with time, the gates themselves are another matter. Anti-city planning remains amazingly sturdy in American cities. It is still embodied in thousands of regulations, bylaws, and codes, also in bureaucratic timidities owing to accepted practices, and in unexamined public attitudes hardened by time. Thus, one may be sure that there have been enormous and dedicated efforts in the face of these obstacles wherever one sees stretches of old city buildings that have been usefully recycled for new and different purposes; wherever sidewalks have been widened and vehicular roadways narrowed precisely where they should be-on streets in which pedestrian traffic is bustling and plentiful; wherever downtowns are not deserted after their offices close; wherever new, fine-grained mixtures of street uses have been fostered successfully; wherever new buildings have been sensitively inserted among old ones to knit up holes and tatters in a city neighborhood so that the mending is all but invisible. Some foreign cities have become pretty good at these feats. But to try to accomplish such sensible things in America is a daunting ordeal at best, and often enough heartbreaking.

In Chapter Twenty of this book I proposed that the ground levels of self-isolating projects within cities could be radically erased and reconstituted with two objects in view: linking the projects into the normal city by fitting them out with plentiful, new, connecting streets; and converting the projects themselves into urban places at the same time, by adding diverse new facilities along those added streets. The catch here, of course, is that new commercial facilities would need to work out economically, as a measure of their genuine and not fake usefulness.

It is disappointing that this sort of radical replanning has not been tried-as far as I know-in the more than thirty years since this book was published. To be sure, with every decade that passes, the task of carrying out the proposal would seem to be more difficult. That is because anti-city projects, especially massive public housing projects, tend to cause their city surroundings to deteriorate, so that as time passes, less and less healthy adjoining city is available to tie into.

Even so, good opportunities still exist for converting city projects into city. Easy ones ought to be tried first on the premise that this is a learning challenge, and it is good policy for all learning to start with easy cases and work up to more difficult ones. The time is coming when we will sorely need to apply this learning to suburban sprawls since it is unlikely we can continue extending them without limit. The costs in energy waste, infrastructure waste, and land waste are too high. Yet if already existing sprawls are intensified, in favor of thriftier use of resources, we need to have learned how to make the intensifications and linkages attractive, enjoyable, safe, and sustainable-for foot people as well as car people.

Occasionally this book has been credited with having helped halt urban-renewal and slum-clearance programs. I would be delighted to take credit if this were true. It isn't. Urban renewal and slum clearance succumbed to their own failures and fiascos, after continuing with their extravagant outrages for many years after this book was published. Even now they pop up when wishful thinking and forgetfulness set in, abetted by sufficient cataclysmic money lent to developers and sufficient political hubris and public subsidies. A recent example, for instance, is the grandiose but bankrupt Canary Wharf project set in isolation in what were London's dilapidated docklands and the demolished, modest Isle of Dogs community, beloved by its inhabitants.

To return to the treasure hunt that began with the streets and one thing leading to another and another: at some point along the trail I realized I was engaged in studying the ecology of cities. Offhand, this sounds like taking note that raccoons nourish themselves from city backyard gardens and garbage bags (in my own city they do, sometimes even downtown), that hawks can possibly reduce pigeon populations among skyscrapers, and so on. But by city ecology I mean something different from, yet similar to, natural ecology as students of wilderness address the subject. A natural ecosystem is defined as "composed of physical-chemical-biological processes active within a space-time unit of any magnitude." A city ecosystem is composed of physical-economic-ethical processes active at a given time within a city and its close dependencies. I've made up this definition, by analogy.

The two sorts of ecosystems-one created by nature, the other by human beings-have fundamental principles in common. For instance, both types of ecosystems-assuming they are not barren-require much diversity to sustain themselves. In both cases, the diversity develops organically over time, and the varied components are interdependent in complex ways. The more niches for diversity of life and livelihoods in either kind of ecosystem, the greater its carrying capacity for life. In both types of ecosystems, many small and obscure components-easily overlooked by superficial observation can be vital to the whole, far out of proportion to their own tininess of scale or aggregate quantities. In natural ecosystems, gene pools are fundamental treasures. In city ecosystems, kinds of work are fundamental treasures; furthermore, forms of work not only reproduce themselves in newly created proliferating organizations, they also hybridize, and even mutate into unprecedented kinds of work. And because of their complex interdependencies of components, both kinds of ecosystems are vulnerable and fragile, easily disrupted or destroyed.

If not fatally disrupted, however, they are tough and resilient. And when their processes are working well, ecosystems appear stable. But in a profound sense, the stability is an illusion. As a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, observed long ago, everything in the natural world is in flux. When we suppose we see static situations, we actually see processes of beginning and processes of ending occurring simultaneously. Nothing is static. It is the same with cities. Thus, to investigate either natural or city ecosystems demands the same kind of thinking. It does not do to focus on "things" and expect them to explain much in themselves. Processes are always of the essence; things have significances as participants in processes, for better or worse.

This way of seeing is fairly young and new, which is perhaps why the hunt for knowledge to understand either natural or city ecology seems so inexhaustible. Little is known; so much yet to know.

We human beings are the only city-building creatures in the world. The hives of social insects are fundamentally different in how they develop, what they do, and their potentialities. Cities are in a sense natural ecosystems too-for us. They are not disposable. Whenever and wherever societies have flourished and prospered rather than stagnated and decayed, creative and workable cities have been at the core of the phenomenon; they have pulled their weight and more. It is the same still. Decaying cities, declining economies, and mounting social troubles travel together. The combination is not coincidental.

It is urgent that human beings understand as much as we can about city ecology-starting at any point in city processes. The humble, vital services performed by grace of good city streets and neighborhoods are probably as good a starting point as any. So I find it heartening that The Modem Library is issuing this beautiful new edition for a new generation of readers who, I hope, will become interested in city ecology, respect its marvels, discover more.

Jane Jacobs
Toronto, Canada October 1992

Revue de presse

"The most refreshing, provacative, stimulating and exciting study of this [great problem] which I have seen. It fairly crackles with bright honesty and common sense."—Harrison Salisbury, The New York Times"One of the most remarkable books ever written about the city... a primary work. The research apparatus is not pretentious—it is the eye and the heart—but it has given us a magnificent study of what gives life and spirit to the city."—William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 480 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage; Édition : Vintage Books ed. (1 décembre 1992)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 067974195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679741954
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,2 x 2,3 x 20,3 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 19.163 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Par Paul El Khoury Harb le 31 décembre 2012
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I baught this book as gift to my girlfriend and she was very surpirsed of the quality. This book is a must read !!!
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279 internautes sur 287 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Constellation of Ideas About City Planning 19 mai 2003
Par Jeffrey Leach - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This 1961 book by Jane Jacobs, a one-time writer for architectural magazines in New York City, turned the world of city planning on its head. The author, who possessed no formal training in architecture or city planning, relied on personal observations of her surroundings in Greenwich Village in New York City to supply ammunition for her charges against the grand muftis of the architectural profession. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" consists mostly of common sense observations, but there is also a good amount of statistical information, economics, sociology, and some philosophy at the base of the author's arguments. This 1993 Modern Library reprint seeks to bring Jacobs's work to a whole new generation of readers, a necessity when one realizes that a majority of the problems plaguing cities in 1961 continue to be a problem today.
Jacobs begins her book with a brief history of where modern city planning came from. According to the author, the mess we call cities today emerged from Utopian visionaries from Europe and America beginning in the 19th century. Figures such as Ebenezer Howard, Lewis Mumford, Le Corbusier, and Daniel Burnham all had a significantly dreadful impact on how urban areas are built and rebuilt. These men all envisioned the city as a dreadful place, full of overcrowding, crime, disease, and ugliness. Howard wished to destroy big cities completely in order to replace them with small towns, or "Garden Cities," made up of small populations. Similar in thought to Howard, Mumford argued for a decentralization of cities into thinned out areas resembling towns. Le Corbusier, says Jacobs, inaugurated yet another harmful plan for cities: the "Radiant City." A radiant city consists of skyscrapers surrounded by wide swaths of parks where vast concentrations of people herded into one area could live and work. Burnham's contribution to planning was "City Monumental," where all of the grand buildings (libraries, government buildings, concert halls, landmarks) of a city could be clustered in one agglomeration separated from the dirty, bad city. Jacobs writes that all of these ideas continue to exert influence on the modern city, and that all of these ideas do not work.
For Jacobs, the key to a successful city rests on one word: diversity. This is not specifically an ethnic diversity, although Jacobs does vaguely include this in her arguments. Rather, diversity means different buildings, different residences, different businesses, and different amounts of people in an area at different times. The antithesis of diversity is what we see today on a stroll through downtown: a bland uniformity of office buildings, apartment dwellings, and houses that stretch as far the eyes can see. In the author's view, this lack of diversification leads to economic stagnation, slums, crime, and a host of other horrors that are all too familiar to viewers of the evening news. Especially egregious to Jacobs is the tendency to isolate low-income people in towering projects surrounded by empty space. The lack of embedded businesses in these areas, along with closed in hallways and elevators (which Jacobs calls "interior sidewalks and streets") creates a breeding ground for criminal elements and bad morale among the residents. Cities that work best employ a wide range of diverse interests that attract, not repel, people. Unfortunately, bureaucrats and social planners always believe top down planning is better than bottom up initiative. Jacobs tries to show the fallacy of social planning.
The amount of ground covered in this book is amazing. The author examines the role and practicality of parks, sidewalks, business interests, city government, streets, automobiles versus pedestrians, and boundaries. Repeatedly, Jacobs discovered fatal errors in how planners build cities. She found parks placed in the sunless shadows of skyscrapers or at the end of dead end streets, narrow sidewalks incapable of carrying heavy foot traffic, city blocks so long that people avoided walking down them, and city governments too fragmented to carry on effective management. All of these things eventually led to abandonment and degradation. Even worse, when a planned section of the city failed the planners came back and razed it to the ground in order to replace it with yet more failure.
One of Jacobs's failings in the book is that she never seems to make the connection between urban planning and social control. The housing projects are a great example. By isolating the poor, blacks as well as whites and other ethnic minorities, the state practices an effective control over these people's lives. This book inspired me to check into the fate of Cabrini-Green, Chicago's notorious housing projects that served as a role model for the abject uselessness of urban planning. These projects are in the process of being razed and replaced by mixed-income houses that, if Jacobs is accurate, may thrive due to the nearby presence of shopping areas and businesses. Of course, the planners are still in the game because they are sending most of the poor residents to other areas of the city.
I am probably not the best person to judge the merits of this book because I have never been to one of Jacobs's "Great Cities." I had difficulty imagining some of the layouts she mentioned in the book due to the simple fact that I have never seen them. Despite this small problem, there is still plenty of information in this book that does make perfect sense. You do not need to live in New York City or Philadelphia to recognize that parks with no sunlight will not be a big hit with the city denizens, or that older buildings are necessary to a neighborhood because they allow small businesses to exist with low overhead costs. "The Death and Life of Great Cities," despite its age, is still a relevant book well worth reading.
101 internautes sur 107 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
a book that changed my thinking 17 janvier 2001
Par Michael Lewyn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This is one of the books that made me realize what makes a city work and what makes it fail: Jacobs emphasizes that a healthy city neighborhood is created not by one "big box" destination like a convention center or a stadium, but by hundreds of little walkable destinations. Buffalo's downtown is a classic example: the Chippewa St. area (dominated by half a dozen little bars and coffeehouses) is relatively vibrant, while the areas near the convention center and stadium are dead, dead, dead. Similarly, in Cleveland the Warehouse District/Flats area (dominated by small, walkable businesses) are year-round destinations, while the areas surrounding the much-touted stadia and Rock Hall of Fame are utterly deserted after dark except on game days.
In response to the reviewer from N.H. who said Jacobs vindicates conservatism: I don't completely agree. Jacobs' work criticizes liberal reliance on big government housing/urban renewal projects, but is equally critical of big government highway projects that a lot of conservatives seem to like.
47 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The classic exposition of how cities work. A must-read. 12 octobre 1996
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Even 35 years after it was written, The Death and Life of Great American
Cities remains the classic book on how cities work and
how urban planners and others have naively destroyed
functioning cities. It is widely known for its incisive
treatment of those who would tear down functioning neighborhoods
and destroy the lives and livelihoods of people for the sake of a
groundless but intellectually appealing daydream.

But although many see it as a polemic against urban planning,
the best parts of it, the parts that have endeared it to
many who love cities, are quite different. Death and Life
is, first of all, a work of observation. The illustrations
are all around us, she says, and we must go and look. She
shows us parts of the city that are alive -- the streets,
she says, are the city that we see, and it is the streets and
sidewalks that carry the most weight -- and find the patterns
that help us not merely see but understand. She shows us the city as
an ecology -- a system of interactions that is more than
merely the laying out of buildings as if they were a
child's wooden blocks.

But observation can mean simply the noting of objects.
Ms. Jacobs writes beautifully, lovingly, of New York
City and other urban places. Her piece "The Ballet of
Hudson Street" is both an observation of events on the
Greenwich Village street where she lived and a prose poem
describing the comings and goings of the people, the rhythms
of the shopkeepers and the commuters and others who use the

In this day when "inner city" is a synonym for poverty
and hopelessness, it is important to be reminded that
cities are literally the centers of civilization, of
business, of culture. This is just as true today as it was
in the early 1960s when this was written. We in North
America owe Jane Jacobs a great debt for her insight and her
39 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
You Should Read this BEFORE you buy a home 26 avril 2006
Par Bonny Dune - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I owe Jane Jacobs a huge debt of gratitude. After reading her book I chose a home within walking distance of everything I needed. It was not in good shape, and I had to put money and sweat into getting it in shape. But she was right that suburbs are not sustainable and it was a terrible place to get stuck if the price of oil went up.

I have a community of friends I did not have in the suburbs and as the price of gas soars I don't have to move my car to get 90% of the things I need. Thank you Jane Jacobs, your work changed my life for the better.
21 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Classic in the study of cities 5 avril 2002
Par Patrick J. Caraher - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
One of the most insightful and thought provoking books I have ever read. Jane Jacobs' classic work on the functioning of cities, though published in 1961, offers a fresh look at our cities and how we choose to live.
Ms. Jacobs' insights grow out of two factors which combine make this an outstanding book. First, she approaches cities as living beings. True, cities are made of bricks and mortar but over time buildings, streets and neighborhoods change in response to the people who live and work in them. Secondly, she bases her conclusions on empirical experience. The author doesn't sit in some ivory tower, theorize how people should live and then expect people's actions to fit those theories. Rather, she observes daily life and from there draws her conclusions.

One item that hit closest to home for me was the book's examination of the effects of public housing. Growing up and living in the Chicago area I knew firsthand that the "projects" were not a desirable place to live. Built at the same time that The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published, Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes were promoted as an improvement to the community. Complete with large parcels of land allocated for parks and bulldozing what were considered "slums" the view at the time was that these projects would improve the vitality of the neighborhood. But, as Ms. Jacobs rightly observed back in 1961, instead of promoting community, projects such as these only set the scene for isolation and fear.
Time has proven this work to be a classic. Many of her observations went against the prevailing wisdom of the era when the book was published. But now, at the dawn of the 21st century, the Robert Taylor Homes face the wrecking ball and cities everywhere are heeding the wisdom in this book as they rethink their approaches toward urban development.
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