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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

On WID's bookshelf: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Written by Jane Jacobs

Read by David Krakauer, WID director and co-director of the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation:

“In many ways the idea of evolution stands opposed to a polar opposite principle, design. In other words, bottom-up, coordinated collective mechanisms, versus top-down individual plans. In biology, this dichotomy is presented in terms of natural selection versus various forms of transcendental creation. But the idea of evolution has never been confined to biology, and the evolution/design dichotomy can been seen throughout the social sciences, and for our purposes, architecture and planning.

I recommend The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs; A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein (1977); and How Buildings Learn (1995) by Stewart Brand. All three emphasize organic, evolutionary principles over the zealous desire of architects, planners and designers to impose an ideal order on the lives of building occupants and town and city dwellers.

Jacobs, Alexander, Ishikawa, Silverstein and Brand present many of the principles that I most value in creative cultures: organic, bottom-up, experimental, non-ideological and non-fanatical, eclectic, meritocratic, diverse and exquisitely sensitive to context and history. The monstrosities of architecture, and soul-destroying “utopian” cities, born from the inflexible vision of urban planners, are the analogs of too many research institutes, programs and departments that have come to govern our lives. The authors of this informal trilogy on organicism suggest to us an alternative reality.”

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