Washington Square Activism: It Took “Six Long Years” to Stop Robert Moses Proposed Roadway Plan Through Park

City Hall Protest in 1958 Organized by Jane Jacobs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Mead & Other Notable Individuals to Curtail Robert Moses’s Roadway Plan, End Traffic

New York University recently presented Narrative and Counternarrative: (Re) Defining the 1960s, an exhibit at Bobst Library, which explored “What made Washington Square a crucial convergence point for the cultural innovators, political activists, and student radicals who defined the 1960s?” I am sorry I missed going before it closed in mid- May. The exhibit included “the struggle to preserve Washington Square Park from Robert Moses’s highway project.”

NYU’s Public Affairs office shared this flyer which was prepared by The Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic. It was distributed to get people to speak up at City Hall hearing in 1958 to at last suspend buses and cars running through the park and prevent any additional changes such as the proposed roadway. In addition to Jane Jacobs, the Emergency Committee also included Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Mead, and Lewis Mumford, among others.

It actually took another seven months from the City Hall protest to get traffic out of the park and defeat the plan.

Community Activism Remains Important to Keep Washington Square Park the Special Place it Is

This is a reminder of how important community activism has been to Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village. It remains so to this day.

It seems like a given to eliminate traffic, but the “powers that be” thought otherwise. (In fact, at one point, the Washington Square Association approved Moses’s proposal.) But community members stayed steadfast, it was a long struggle, reminding us that things take time to turn around. You have to stay in there.

Traffic going through Washington Square Park did not officially end until April 1959.

Related caption:

On September 18, 1958, a large group of Greenwich Village residents gathered at a Board of Estimate hearing at City Hall to voice their support for closing Washington Square Park to traffic. Jacobs herself spoke at this hearing, along with many city politicians and community members, to contest the roadway through the park. While the meeting ended in a postponement of the vote on the issue, many regarded this moment as the death knell for the Washington Square Park roadway plan.

Bobst Library was also “the subject of community protests” by Jane Jacobs and other community members prior to being built.

The exhibition was drawn from special collections at Fales Library, Tamiment Library, and the University Archives. The Fales Library “holds a wealth of papers and archives from downtown New York City artists and arts organizations, including the Judson Memorial Church Archive.” Tamiment Library “is one of the oldest special collections in the U.S. devoted to the history of left politics and social protest movements.” The University Archives “document the history of NYU.”

All three libraries are located within Bobst Library building at 70 Washington Square South across from the park.

Image: Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic, flyer for September 18 action, [1958]. New York University Archives, Records of the Washington Square Association, Inc.

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