This post is a contribution by Charlie McCabe, Fellow at Jane Jacobs at 100.
Jane Jacobs would have been 100 on June 4, 2016.
Jane is a legendary figure in civic engagement circles, especially around preserving diverse urban neighborhoods. A self-taught journalist and activist, many of her ideas were distilled in the 1961 publication, The Death and Life of American Cities. Many concepts that Jane discussed are still used by urban activists today. Cities, she believed, should be untidy, complex and full of surprises. Good cities encourage social interaction at the street level: they are pedestrian friendly; they favor walking, biking and public transit over cars; they get people talking to each other. Residential buildings should be low-rise and should have stoops and porches. Sidewalks and parks should have benches. Streets should be short and wind around neighborhoods. Livable neighborhoods require mixed-use buildings – especially first-floor retail and housing above, advocating for mom-and-pop stores over chains and the idea of “eyes on the street” leading to safe and supportive neighborhoods. To many, Jane Jacobs is the patron saint of grassroots movements against bureaucratic development resulting in residential displacement, and a rallying figure against the “great blight of dullness’, as she wrote, of big, ugly new construction.
Jane was a leader for many years in opposing LOMEX, aka, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have place a multi-lane elevated freeway connecting the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to the Holland Tunnel, resulting in demolition of thousands of historic buildings along Broome St, approximately 14 blocks, displacing 2,000 families and over 800 businesses. Needless to say, the impact on both the East & West village, Soho and Little Italy would have been devastating. From May 9-15, you can catch a remounted and condensed version of “In the Shadow of the Highway: Robert Moses Expressway and the Battle for Downtown” presented by NYC Department of Records in association with miLES and FABnyc.
To commemorate Jane Jacob’s 100th anniversary, you can also attend walks organized over Jane’s Walk Weekend, May 6-8, some of which are anchored here in the Lower East Side. You can view the walks anchored in the Lower East Side here.