Care about cities and children? You must read this book

A brief post, to flag up a wonderful opportunity to get under the skin of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written in 1961 by Jane Jacobs.

City Builder Book Club » Mary Rowe on the Introduction: Why you will read and reread this book.

This book completely changed the way I think about cities: how they work, how they change, how people can change them (for better or worse). It is still in print and widely available, so why not get a copy (if you don’t have it already) and join the City Builder Book Club?

Even if you are not sure you want to read the whole thing, you really need to get at least up to Chapters 4 (entitled “The uses of sidewalks: assimilating children”) and 5 (“The uses of neighborhood parks”). I promise you, you will never look at streets, parks or playgrounds in the same way again.

Of course the world has changed since Jacobs’ time, and she is not right about everything. But the central question she asks – about how people of all ages and backgrounds can get along in big cities, even though we will never know even a fraction of our fellow city-dwellers – is absolutely the right one. And by the way, don’t be put off by the word “American” in the title – her insights are relevant to cities around the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book.

6 responses to “Care about cities and children? You must read this book

  1. Dear Tim, I’ve read the book (amongst others she has written). I am such a fan, the publisher of “Genius Of Common Sense” – the story of the making of the book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” used my comments on the back cover to extoll the virtues of this Great Lady and her ideas.

    Bravo to you for bringing her tyo our attention agaoin. Her story and books make rebuilding our lives within cities is not only a must but a “must do now!”

    • Thanks for the comment Bernard. I know she is seen by some as something of a saint/guru figure, in Canada and beyond. In that context it’s all the more important to get people to set aside her reputation, and consider her arguments on their merits. After all, she was not too troubled herself by reputations.

  2. Systems of Survival was my introduction to J J followed by Nature of Economies two books seamlessly incorporating cutting edge complexity science ideas. A few of us complexity types in the UK appreciated her biological rather than engineering take on systems theory, and I have never understood why complexity sciences are hardly ever mentioned in reviews. I only discovered L and D of A C later. What I love is the rigour of her thinking and her biologist’s eye for the underlying patterns of systems. Have to re read soon.

    • Arthur, I am of course aware of our shared admiration for her work, and recall conversations we have had. I thought it was interesting that she stood by the book even decades later. In a similar vein to you, I feel impelled to read some of her other books, and will check out your references.

  3. Pingback: City Builder Book Club » Week 4 wrap-up

  4. Pingback: The sorry state of neighbourhood design in America: a mother writes | Rethinking Childhood

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