Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Five best books about cities

Simon Jenkins's new book is A Short History of England: The Glorious Story of a Rowdy Nation.

He named a five best list of books about cities for the Wall Street Journal. One title on the list:
The Death and Life of Great American Cities
by Jane Jacobs (1961)

I still cannot walk down a city street without Jane Jacobs rushing up to me and shouting: "Look at that." It might be an incident on a sidewalk or a car parking or a family on a stoop. She could read meaning into anything. Every patch of urban ground was grist to her mill as observer of the evolution of cities. She wrote of America, but her philosophy applied equally to London, Tokyo, Paris or Moscow. Above all she loved city streets, those microcosms of all human settlement. "It may be romantic to search for the salves of society's ills in slow-moving rustic surroundings, or among innocent, unspoilt provincials," she wrote, "but it is a waste of time." She saw in streets the crooked timber of mankind on vibrant display—informal, casual, diverse, possibly cruel, defying governments, planners and architects. Jacobs's concept of neighborhood and defensible space, her "ballet of the sidewalk," and her hatred of "decontaminated" urbanism entered the language of planning but were largely disregarded. Her glorification of urban clutter produced by organic change remains anathema to city planners. Hers was an intellectual triumph but a practical failure.
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is one of Tim Harford's top 10 undercover economics books.

--Marshal Zeringue