Does it seem like everyone knew May 4th would have been Jane Jacobs’ 100th birthday? The coverage was pretty extensive in the week preceding her birth date, and then I noted that Google put Jacobs on their home page yesterday, her actual birthday, including a strange illustrated version of the Arch (well, really, just those two round circles are a bit curious). And maybe that‘s the fountain?
Jane Jacobs deserves tribute. She left New York in the late 1960s and moved to Toronto where she lived for the remaining decades until she died in 2006. While she was here, she made such an impact, particularly in the Village.
Here are four articles worth reading (there are many more):
Curbed: An Illustrated Guide to Jane Jacobs The illustration alone is worth checking out since it gives a smart Cliff Notes‘ version of what she and Death and Life of Great American Cities, her groundbreaking 1961 book, were about.
Next City: Filling in the Blanks of Jane Jacobs’ Missing Chapter (in Robert Caro‘s book on Robert Moses, The Power Broker)
Jacobs had sharp ideas that still resonate today and yet are bandied about by elected officials as it suits them, often not implemented or given very serious thought.
However, the fact that it really took a Village in her activism efforts gets glossed over.
Jacobs is crediting with getting traffic out of Washington Square and taking on Robert Moses, but Shirley Hayes, Edith Lyons, Eleanor Roosevelt and others were critically instrumental during that time period. And also very creative.
Edith Lyons told the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation in an interview that she hired models to gather signatures in the park for a petition to stop the cars running through it.
Things are different now. The powers–that–be seem to have figured out ways to circumvent community, to get all the necessary approvals before they even appear before the public. And the media mostly plays along, unless there is hint of a brawl. Duplicitous things still happened then behind–the–scenes, but things seemed more winnable, perhaps.
Yes? No? Maybe?
In Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs’ inventive book on the planning of cities, she wrote of NYC’s recurring plans to play around with Washington Square Park:
“The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase to describe this is, ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”
This was 1961. By 2007, the Bloomberg Administration “city officials” were able to push through their “improvement scheme.”
One of the earliest posts at this blog was this one on Jane Jacobs (originally published in 2008). In a roundabout way, she is one of the reasons this blog started.
Bottom Photo, Jacobs in Washington Square: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images