“Naked City”

On the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, one of the most influential studies of the city in recent years, sociologist Sharon Zukin surveys the contemporary American cityscape. She focuses on her own city, New York, and concludes that it has “lost its soul”.

Jacobs’ paean to the human scale of street life and the urban village heralded the start of a wave of middle-class gentrification, which Zukin argues is now as much a threat to the diversity of communities as is the corporate city. The result is an “overbearing sameness”. Cities are losing their “authenticity”. They are no longer places where people can put down roots, but “experiences” people consume before moving on.

Unlike Jacobs, Zukin argues that governments have an important role to play in creating the authentic city. From the privatisation of public spaces such as New York’s Union Square park to the new Harlem renaissance bringing the white middle-classes into the ghetto, this is an important study of the social and commercial forces redefining our cities.


Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places
Sharon Zukin
Oxford University Press, 2011

— By PD Smith


Copyright © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011