"Great Cities" preceded the rise of large corporations and advanced technology. Their mixed land use, frequented streets, and densities fueled America's 20th century rise:


Old colonies:



New York


River cities:



St Louis

Manufacturing boomtowns:






256 page walk across the 12 cities that built America with mixed use, density and connected streets. The author brings deep professorial insight, joy and passion to 500 miles of day hikes. 

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America has many other mixed use and connected places with similar potential to bring people together - some, historic in their own right: 


Old colonies:



Port/Transport cities:


San Francisco

New Orleans

and some smaller cities with rich economic legacies, such as: 

Industrial bulwark "Legacy Cities":

Camden, Newark & Trenton, NJ

Rochester, Syracuse & Albany NY

Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo & Youngstown, Ohio


Anchors of the railroad west:


Kansas City


Salt Lake City

San Antonio


Great Cities of the world:

industrial giants such as Montreal, London and Berlin; European civilizations such as Paris, Barcelona and Dublin; and new mega-cities of the developing world and the east. 


"Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration with energy enough for problems and needs outside of themselves."

Jane Jacobs, "Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961)

" "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” When cities fail, they fail for the same reason democracies fail."

"The Prophecies of Jane Jacobs," by

Nathaniel Rich, Atlantic Monthly magazine, November 2016.  

Concepts of old Cities

A few facts about America’s 12 “Great Cities”:


* 1 in 11 Americans lived in them in 1880, producing 1/3 of GNP. By 1930, 1 in 6 lived in them.

They made most steel, rail, chemicals, autos and life-changing goods.

1850 to 1930, Great Cities grew from a few sq miles to 100 +; after 1930, suburbs captured all growth, decreasing city population shares.

They were 1/2 foreign born in 1850, 40% African-American by 1990.

They pioneered unions, parks, museums, community development, city plans, transit terminals among other institutions.

America’s “Legacy Cities”:

Older, industrial urban areas with significant population and job loss, resulting in high residential vacancy and diminished service capacity and resources. http://www.legacycities.org/


Columbia University's American Assembly has convened

these middle neighborhoods with an Action Agenda (right)

to target their stabilization.

Brookings Institution "Restoring Prosperity" initiative (2006) for older industrial cities: lowest third on economic and residential well-being, with 50,000+ people as the largest city in a metro, or 50% of the population of the metro's largest city, or a population of 150,000+.

These old cities are largely in the east and middle west:

America’s Largest Cities in Population:

interactive map shows growth of south and pacific north: https://www.census.gov/2010census/popmap/

1 New York city, NY 8,175,133

2 Los Angeles city, CA 3,792,621

3 Chicago city, IL 2,695,598

4 Houston city, TX 2,099,451

5 Philadelphia city, PA 1,526,006

6 Phoenix city, AZ 1,445,632

7 San Antonio city, TX 1,327,407

8 San Diego city, CA 1,307,402

9 Dallas city, TX 1,197,816

10 San Jose city, CA 945,942

Economy, Equity, Environment

-Don't borrow from future, so future quality can be as good-


"The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism in the 21st Century," Grace Lee Boggs (1916-2015). http://graceleeboggs.com/ 

https://nextcity.org/ is a nonprofit inspiring social, economic, and environmental change in cities through journalism and events.


American Society of Landscape Architects. https://www.asla.org/sustainableurbandevelopment.aspx

National League of Cities Sustainable Cities Institute, offers leadership and best practices in land use and resiliency. http://www.sustainablecitiesinstitute.org/ 

International alliance of companies advocating intelligent design and technology for livable, workable, sustainable places. http://smartcitiescouncil.com/


Southeast Michigan Council of Governments 

(SEMCOG), "Creating a Sustainable Infrastructure in Southeast Michigan," (July 2010). www.semcog.org 


Mixed Use, Frequented Streets, Dense Concentrations


are visible, connected to other activities, and define public space from private. Buffalo's Elmwood area thrives on a parkway seamlessly linking northside through streets using landscaped circles that link to the showcase Delaware Park. 


creates neighborhood character, and is efficient. Ethnic neighborhoods with various human activities in close proximity are still evident. Chicago's Chinatown has a commercial strip by residences, including a senior center for Chinese, and by social institutions and a warehouse district. 

Jane Jacobs,

"Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961)



shorter distances to transact, using less infrastructure, makes a place more efficient and dynamic, and more resilient. Industrial cities like Baltimore (right) survive decades after whole economic sectors are gone. proving that density produced more wealth and left an efficient footprint. 

Environmental restoration, innovative historic preservation, public-private collaborations, and community engagement give new models for social and economic prosperity.

The continued march past urban fringes consumes land and wastes infrastructure, driving up living costs and atomizing American life. Cities promise a sustainable future - and Great Cities can light the path.