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Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), did not like the term “urban design” and did not describe herself as an architectural critic, but contributed significantly to the development of American architectural criticism and the new field of urban design. Although relatively little is known about Jacobs’ intellectual development, her influences, and her early writing career, before Death and Life was published, Jacobs was already among the most influential critics of urban renewal in the country. The book was a culmination of many years of studying and writing about the city; of working as a journalist and critic for Architectural Forum, for which she wrote many un-bylined articles about the progress of urban redevelopment; and of involvement in the emerging academic field of urban design. Although she is generally known as an independent and leading critic of urban renewal, Jacobs initially idealized the possibilities of city planning and redevelopment. Meanwhile, both her criticism of city planning theory and practice and her ideas for alternative approaches were significantly influenced by others, including Forum’s editor Douglas Haskell, a longtime advocate of rigorous American architectural criticism, as well as Ed Bacon, Catherine Bauer, Louis Kahn, and Lewis Mumford. Jacobs’ ideas about the city and its planning were also shaped by particular interests in urban geography, the life sciences, and social institutions from early in her career, and it was in bringing these influences together that she developed an understanding of what made a good city and the possibilities and limits of its planning and design. A better understanding of her early work suggests that although Jacobs did not like the term “urban design,” and later wrote that a city cannot be a work of art, she believed in a shared practice of making cities that could serve the diverse plans and desires of their many inhabitants.


A DISSERTATION in Architectural History and Theory

Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania