The era after World War II saw America's urban planners treat the lives of city-dwellers with disdain. It spawned a philosophy of urban renewal that valued the efficient movement of cars more than it valued the lives of people, and that wiped out entire neighborhoods dismissed by bureaucrats as slums. Published in 1961, Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities examines the shortsightedness and failure of this philosophy. The book turns away from strict statistical study and abstract planning theory in favor of observations of city life as it actually occurs in thriving neighborhoods - and Jacobs's own Greenwich Village in particular.
Despite being dismissed as "a crazy dame" and being mocked for having no formal training in urban planning, Jacobs led a grassroots movement that was ultimately successful in stopping a typical urban renewal project - the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The Death and Life of Great American Cities has sold over 250,000 copies, and many urban planners have since gone on to apply Jacobs's innovative ideas.