The Death and Life of Great American Cities

I just finished one of the best pieces of non-fiction I’ve read quite some time, Jane Jacobs’ indictment of orthodox city planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This is one of those books I wish I was forced to read at an early age: insightful, motivating, and connected to so many ideas and disciplines. I’ll write an extended review sometime soon (after SXSW for sure), but in the mean time I need a bit of cathartic mind-dump:

“Statistical people are a fiction for many reasons, one of which is that they are treated as if infinitely interchangeable. Real people are unique, they invest years of their lives in significant relationships with other unique people, and are not interchangeable in the least.”

This passage cuts to the heart of what makes so many social studies sound like fingernails on chalkboard. Statistics can be a useful tool for parsing large amounts of data, but they are never a substitution for real people.

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