Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although Jane Jacobs never received any formal training in city planning or economics, her work has excited much interest, and perhaps more resistance, among academics and city leaders alike. Her first book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, grew out of her observations, as an editor of Architectural Forum, of the urban renewal projects in New York. Conventional planning, she noticed, did not seem to create vibrant, livable neighborhoods but rather killed whatever good had once been present. Her book, then, offers observations of various neighborhoods, mostly in New York, in regard to what constitutes a good or bad neighborhood. Jacobs finds that a good neighborhood offers to its inhabitants diverse possibilities for human interactions of all kinds—economic, social, political, cultural. Consequently, she examines those aspects of a city that can increase or decrease these possibilities and suggests ways for city planners to create better neighborhoods, or at least not destroy those aspects that are already strong.

The book is divided into four parts, beginning with a section dealing with uses of specific attributes of cities. The next part looks at how these attributes contribute to what Jacobs upholds as the most essential element of a healthy city: diversity. The third section examines what causes a city to decline and what causes it to gain new life. The book concludes with a series of specific suggestions for city planners and architects. Thus the book deals with all aspects of the city, from its physical nature to the underlying forces that keep it alive to the effects that citizens can have upon their environment.