Jane Jacobs: Without Her, NYC Would Have Been Vastly Different

staff | March 24, 2009

Some of our heroines are recognized for their work–but sometimes more locally than nationally. Though she was instrumental in saving the character of the Village in Manhattan, elsewhere Jacobs’ work and her ideas are still slow to be implemented, if only because they often go against the schemes of capital in favor of a smaller-scale, community approach.

So, in Jacobs’ case, she’s a sung heroine, but one whose tune is still too faint (IMO!). And it’s still a tragedy that NY Planner Robert Moses ended up destroying the character of many neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs–Jacobs voice was only loud enough to save one.

This video segment from New York Voices describes Jane Jacobs, the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The book helped turn public opinion against the large government housing developments, urban renewal projects, and multi-lane highways that were rapidly obliterating older city neighborhoods. Jacobs disagreed with the notion that the city’s oldest neighborhoods should be demolished to make way for high-rise buildings, housing projects and six-lane highways (and yes, a highway was planned by Robert Moses to cut through Soho and Washington Square). Jacobs challenged builders to think about what neighborhoods meant to the everyday lives of the people who lived there. Her ideas changed the thoughts and future for millions of people.

Jane Jacobs passed away on April 25, 2006 at the age of 89.

NY Voices tribute to Jacobs (6 minutes), including clips of Jacobs speaking in the 1960s:

Thirteen Forum in tribute to Jacobs:
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, now considered a seminal work in the field of urban planning, was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which established the Jane Jacobs Medal in 2007. The 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal winners—Peggy Shepard and Alexie Torres-Fleming—were honored at a dinner and ceremony held at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum. After an introduction from Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, Robert Caro (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) speaks about Jacobs’ epic struggles against the urban policies of the legendary builder Robert Moses, as well as the importance and influence of her work and legacy in the development of contemporary cities.