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From South Village to South Bronx, the Legacy of Jane Jacobs

In 1955 the Committee to Save Washington Square Park was distributing flyers to alert the public about a proposal to drive a four-lane road through the center of the park.  One neighborhood  resident, then  a writer with Architectural Forum, read it, and got involved. Tomorrow May 4th is the centenary of Jane Jacobs birth.  We are joining the entire world in celebrating this milestone and hosting an event in her name here in Greenwich Village, where her vision and community organizing efforts were crystalized and first exercised.

Via http://www.6sqft.com
Via http://www.6sqft.com

One hundred years after her birth, the legacy of Jane Jacobs persists. So too do the forces of rampant top-down development that she worked to battle and transform.

As urban planning Professor and author Tom Angotti put it to me recently, “NYC does zoning, it does not do community planning.” Community planning for the present and future that honors the past is needed now more than ever, and many stakeholders across the City continue to advocate for such plans.  Jane Jacobs is an inspiration.

Even after Mayor deBlasio’s ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and ‘Mandatory Inclusionary Housing’ effort passed,  diverse groups, from South Village to South Bronx, from Northern Manhattan to Chinatown, are spearheading their own local planning visions.


The historic South Village,  neighborhood with a wonderfully intact character, remains vulnerable to inappropriate demolition and totally out-of-scale new construction – up to 300 feet tall under existing rules.  Learn more about the community vision and how you can support it with a quick email here.

The South Bronx is still addressing the legacy of Robert Moses, often portrayed as Jane Jacobs’ arch nemesis.  Where JanesWalk celebrates her engagement with local level planning, Moses was known for highways and byways that parted entire neighborhoods on gargantuan scales.

The Port Morris Mott Haven Waterfront plan is the result of decades of grassroots visions shaped by local residents.  The comprehensive plan is seeking to address environmental justice inequities and lack of waterfront access.  Larger groups like Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project are staying accountable to local stakeholders while they seek funding to implement some of these priorities.

Port Morris Gantries one of the Historic District Council Six to Celebrate projects.
Port Morris Gantries one of the Historic District Council Six to Celebrate projects.

Join us for what is sure to be an exciting and far-ranging discussion about the impact of Jane Jacobs on our built and natural environment at the Village Community School with three amazing panelists. RSVP for this free event here.

Warren Shaw is a visionary blend of historian and practicing attorney lawyer.  Andrew Berman, the head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, is as Vanity Fair put itthe pesky David to the Goliath developers who have come to define post-millennial Manhattan. “ And Alice Sparberg Alexiou,  the author of Jane Jacobs’ first biography Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary as well as The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It

Join us Wednesday May 4th for a lively panel discussion; bring your questions to the Q and A afterwards.

As Rutgers University Press puts it in summarizing the importance of Alexiou’s Jacobs biography, and reminds us of initiatives that previous Mayoral administrations implemented:

Today, we take for granted the wisdom of … making once decaying waterfronts into vibrant public spaces, of protecting historic buildings under landmark laws, and of building public housing on a human scale rather than as high-rises. In contemporary cities, it is now common for community groups to plant gardens in empty lots and to buy abandoned apartment buildings from the city for a dollar and fix them up. But these and other urban planning policies and practices have not always been accepted. Before they became widespread, they were the visionary ideas of the writer and urban commentator Jane Jacobs.”

And next time, take that flyer being offered you – you never know what road it may lead to.

event blurb

RSVP for Wednesday night’s panel discussion here.







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