When she wrote The Economy of Cities, Jacobs already had a reputation as a defender of cities against planners and architects who promoted urban renewal in the form of sterile housing projects. In her earlier work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), she contemptuously cast aside contemporary urban planning and promoted the dynamic qualities of city neighborhoods. Writing in 1968, her most prominent critic, Lewis Mumford, applauded her “fresh insights and pertinent ideas” but decried her “series of amateurish planning proposals that will not stand up under the most forbearing examination.”
In The Economy of Cities, Jacobs drew parallels between cities that were centuries and continents apart and peremptorily rejected the ideas of economists when they conflicted with her unusual and original thesis. Urban planners attacked her approach because she disregarded scientific studies of cities and regions. However, the general public and the academic community agreed with Charles Abrams, a Harvard University professor who noted the book’s timeliness and hoped that the book would focus public attention on neglected issues and theories.