A lengthy analysis of city-planning failures up to the 1960s with plenty of lessons for today and beyond. So the book takes on Robert Moses and his ideology more than anything, but also targets the ways in which planning had gotten both ossified (received wisdom) and also reactive (attempting to replicate the irreplicatable). Jacobs takes the question of what makes a successful city and turns it around as a form of analysis, rather than seeking to create rules and principles. What this means is that she rejects the idea that you can create a guidebook to a successful city, ie that you can look at the success of a city and replicate it in another space and expect success. So she takes a more granular analysis of successes as cities and within cities, and attempts to explain some of the particular ways in which those places became successful. She creates a series of guiding philosophies instead of rules. So for example, one of her philosophies is that spaces need to meet the needs of a myriad of different people, at different times of the day, for different purposes. And while some features might work in different ways for different people, making sure that the different elements in a neighborhood work together. For example, I am reminded of the unhealthy competition that creates significant tension in Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant between the grocery store and the “deli” that also sells groceries. There’s also the idea that if a business takes up a huge amount of land and does allow for additional diverse uses around it, it will grow stagnant. If you’ve ever seen the Geico corporate campus in Friendship Heights in DC, you will recognize that.
The book mostly is a really interesting, early socio-political argument for consciousness in planning. It’s something that I will be thinking about when I walk around my city and look for examples of both good and bad planning in action.