Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities

President Stephen Beal talks about his most treasured book

CCA President Stephen Beal wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle on what this beloved and tattered paperback of Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities means to him.

Read about how the quintessential urban planning text inspired him as a graduate student and how it also ended up inspiring his son:

"I read the paperback edition of Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” when I moved to Chicago in 1968. I was 19, about to enter art school, and I had never lived in a city as big as Chicago before. I was fascinated by the city’s hundreds of neighborhoods, each with their own complex structures and vivid personalities. As I took it all in, the voice of Jacobs did for me what great art does — it shone a new light on the world around me. It showed me how the sidewalks lived and breathed in “an intricate ballet, in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts, which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.”

To this day, I can’t walk around a city without looking for traces of that ballet or without recognizing the vulnerability of the kinds of communities Jacobs celebrated.

I talk about books often with my son, and Jacobs’ text came up one day. He went off and read it. It was the basis of his college essay and it was one of the reasons he decided to study in New York City.

When he moved there, he stole my copy and took it with him. Luckily, I have a second."

Check out the article on the San Francisco Chronicle's website.