Books That Inspire 2002

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jane Jacobs

My dog-eared paperback copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities cost $1.95 when I bought it in a small bookstore on a sloping street in Providence. I still can smell and visualize where I made the purchase and its close proximity to the Rhode Island School of Design.

Inscribed on the inside cover of this book are the words "dedicated to the power of his influence! Cliff Selbert, RISD, winter 1975." Years ago in an architectural studio course in a brick warehouse, I was teamed on a project with Cliff Selbert. Teammate Selbert, demanding and tough, turned to me in studio and yelled "by gosh Parry! - haven't you ever read Jane Jacobs and The Death and Life of Great American Cities?" Not wanting to seem ignorant, I got my hands on this book without delay and set to reading it.

The moment I sat down to read, my world was forever changed. Through Jane Jacobs' descriptions, I was led into believing that knowledge and wisdom could come from everyday observation. That instead of second-guessing design recommendations I personally thought appealing, if I sat on a street corner and noticed that more people walked on one side of the street than another because it had the sun exposure, my approach to design solutions would be more effective. When asked what book inspires me…immediately I feel the Jane Jacobs point: observe!
Marjorie Callahan
Assistant Professor