Jane Jacobs'‘Cities First’ Model and Archaeological Reality


Michael E Smith, Jason A Ur, and Gary Feinman. 2014. “Jane Jacobs'‘Cities First’ Model and Archaeological Reality.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38, Pp. 1525-1535. Copy at https://j.mp/2oxCBuh


In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs conjectured that the world’s first cities preceded the origins of agriculture, a proposition that was most recently revived by Peter Taylor in the pages of this journal. The repeated resurrection of Jacobs’ idea was out of line with extant archaeological findings when first advanced decades ago, and it is firmly contradicted by a much fuller corpus of data today. After a review of how and why Jacobs formulated her “cities first” model, we review current archaeological knowledge from the Near East, China, and Mesoamerica to document the temporal precedence of agriculture before urbanism in each of these regions. Contrary to the opinions of Jacobs and Taylor, archaeological data in fact are sufficiently robust to reconstruct patterns of diet, settlement, and social organization in the past, and to assign dates to the relevant sites. Our response illustrates how generations of archaeological discoveries have yielded solid empirical foundations for the evaluation of wider social scientific debates.

Last updated on 08/24/2014