Volume 18, Number 50 | April 28 - May 4, 2006


The life and death of Jane Jacobs

BJane Jacobs, one of the greatest legends of Greenwich Village and urban planning, died on Tuesday. Though she had moved to Toronto some years ago, Jacobs — who was 89 — will never be forgotten here.

Simply put, Downtown is a better place because of Jane Jacobs. It is not just that 40 years ago she led the successful fight to prevent the Lower Manhattan Expressway from cutting through the heart of Downtown by connecting the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge. Robert Moses’ highway would have cut the life out of Soho, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Little Italy and would have thwarted the subsequent emergence of Lower Manhattan and Tribeca.

It is her spirit and the thousands, if not millions of planners, politicians and people who are still learning her lessons that may be an even more lasting legacy than the victories she had on our streets.

She proved that an “ordinary” woman not only could know more than the “experts,” but that if she were smart, plucky and knew how to organize her neighbors, residents could stop a project favored by the powerful.

The whole movement to break up some of the W.T.C. superblock and bring active retail is an example inspired by her groundbreaking book, “The Death and Life of American Cities.” Fortunately, today’s planning agencies are no longer staffed with her opponents, but with people who accept many of her ideas.

Not every one of those principles is always right and not every community fight is good, but the idea that people are the most important part of urban planning, that they can improve or stop plans if they are smart and organized, that government officials must have true consultations with neighbors – that idea lives and Jane Jacobs is a big reason why.

Don’t step back on City Hall art

We probably won’t see a mayor who appreciates and supports the arts more than Mike Bloomberg for generations and it is under his leadership that we have had fantastic public art exhibits in City Hall Park, most recently the Alexander Calder works that were installed over the weekend. Temporary exhibits do give the park a dynamic appeal, but two pieces that were taken down should become permanent fixtures: Julian Opie’s “Bruce Walking” and “Sara Walking,” the digital walkers near the Tweed Courthouse steps.

First off, those whimsical, compelling works weren’t really in the park, they were on Chambers St. – livening up a dark street at night – so it would not take anything away from Calder’s exhibit to put them back. Two images of human figures constantly walking were a pleasant message to many Downtowners who had passed by the boarded up courthouse steps for decades: This time these stately steps are here for good. The renovation of the landmark building built on graft took far too long and Opie’s piece perfectly captured the place where the Public Art Fund put it.

The fund gets these works on loan with the help of the city and Forest City Ratner. The walkers can’t be brought back instantly, but something tells us the creative and well-funded people involved can find a way to give Sara and Bruce a home at Tweed.


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