Jane Jacobs's ambitions for The Death and Life of Great American Cities were substantially greater than has been commonly understood. While writing the book, she described her goal as nothing less than creating a new "system of thought" about the great city. Elsewhere she explained that, "What I would like to do is to create for the reader another image of the city, not drawn from mine or anyone else's imagination or wishes but, so far as this is possible, from real life; an image more compelling to the reader than the abstractions, because he is convinced it is truer."
Jacobs contrasted her "image of the city" to then commonplace images of the old, inhuman city and the modern, rational city meant to rebuild it from the ground up. She was also aware, even before she started to write Death and Life, of Kevin Lynch's studies of the image of the city; an early draft of Lynch's book was in circulation in 1958 and Jacobs made reference to this in her blockbuster article "Downtown is for People," in April of that year. Not long after that, the Rockefeller Foundation, which supported Lynch's book project, granted Jacobs support for hers. In 1960, while still at work on Death and Life, Lynch's Image of the City was published and Jacobs remarked that his book was "reassuring to me, and I have learned from it too."
I will be speaking today about Jacobs and the image of the city at SACRPH2015, the 16th national conference on planning history, hosted by the Society for American City and Regional Planning History.