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A Street Named for Jane Jacobs
14 July 2009
The New York Times

There has long been Jane Street in the Village. Now a few blocks south, there is Jane Jacobs Way, named for the author-activist who used the perch from her Greenwich Village apartment on that block to change the course of urban planning in the 1960s.

Ms. Jacobs, who died in 2006, lived at 555 Hudson Street, between West 11th and Perry Streets. She immortalized the ''sidewalk ballet'' of her block in her book ''The Death and Life of Great American Cities.''

As of Monday morning, when the street sign, below, was unveiled, the single block was formally connected to Ms. Jacobs. For years, it had been connected to her through New York City lore and urban planning classes.

On Hudson Street, as Ms. Jacobs wrote in her book, people put out their garbage, children go to school, the dry cleaner and the barber open their shops, women come out to chat and longshoremen visit the local bar. Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone.

The street had many virtues that Ms. Jacobs espoused for urban design. It was short (encouraging foot traffic) and crowded (spurring a busy street life) and made up of three- and four-story buildings, with apartments above and shops on the ground floor: a grocer, a barber, a hardware store.

Of course, since Ms. Jacobs moved to Canada in 1968, the Village has gentrified considerably. Though the White Horse Tavern, which dates to the 1880s, is still at the corner, many other businesses are gone. In fact, both 555 and 557 Hudson are vacant.

The popular Italian restaurant at 557 Hudson, D'Andrea, moved to West 13th because of skyrocketing rents, a neighboring store manager said. And the children's store City Cricket, at Jane Jacobs's very own 555 Hudson, closed around the beginning of the year.
 

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Im all for it If one woman was able to topple down the Moses Empire I think one little block where it all started deserves to have her name
 

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What'u smokin' Willis?
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^Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs are the two extremes of the same spectrum. One is the excess of experimental progress with utter disregard of what came before (and essentially what worked in the past and what didn't). The other is sentimentality with disregard for vision and the modern.

Basically, while midtown expressway was an incredibly awful idea (presented years after it became known what damage it does to the urban fabric) it does not follow that all neighborhoods must (or even should aspire to) be quaint spiritual replicas of Greenwich Village.
 

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Jane Jacobs was an amateur who criticised professionals and therefore inspired a great deal of ire from these professionals who carried out a smear campaign against her.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is not an exercise in sentimentality and nostalgia as has been suggested but an intelligent and objective analysis of how cities work and how the policies adopted by planners worked against them.

Planners did not set out to create soulless neighbourhoods where people felt afraid to walk but a lack of understanding of the forces shaping these neighbourhoods meant that was the result.

So Jacobs could write whole chapters on how the streets on which they lived were an important factor in socialising children - contrary to planning dogma that streets were a source of juvenile delinquency. In a classic observation, she describes how children fighting in a public park where labelled as 'street gangs'.

Her analysis of how four seemingly identical public squares in Philadelphia ranged from extremely popular to dangerous and deserted shows the skill of a gifted amateur.

The slur that Jacobs was only interested in twee olde worlde neighbourhoods is one that pops up from time to time. In the Death and Life, she describes addressing a meeting of planners to have her detailed analysis summed up as 'we must leave room for the corner shop'. I have read one book about town planning that sought to castigate Jacobs as being 'middle class' - as if town planners are working class heroes.

Whatever city you live in, you will always wonder why some places work and some don't and I believe that Jacobs came closer than almost anybody to understanding the complex reasons.

Moses was quite a fascinating character and he did achieve a great deal for New York - but his emphasis on huge road projects and sweeping away whole sections of town proved to be his downfall and Jane Jacobs proved his nemesis.

So, if I lived in New York, I would definitely not object to having a Jane Jacobs street - provided of course it contained the vibrant street life that Jacobs did so much to encourage.
 

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On this subject, I'd be interested to know what a New Yorker's take on this would be:

The street plan of New York was set out by John Randall in 1811. In setting out a grid of streets and avenues, Randall provided very little in the way of public open space as he assumed that a city surrounded by water would have plenty of fresh air. However, by the 1850s, the need for a large central park was identified and the landscape designers Olmsted and Vaux were appointed (basing their design on that of Birkenhead Park near Liverpool as I need to get in).

Central Park was initially very remote from the built up area of Manhattan but rapid development soon encroached on the park and the park itself divided the city between the West and East side.

The two sides of the city grew up to be very different. The East side became the affluent, glamorous side of the city, characterised by Madison Avenue and the home of Sex and the City, whilst the West side became run down and crime-ridden and was the setting for West Side Story.

It is here where Jane Jacobs came in. She puzzled over why two seemingly identical areas should be so different and put it down to the difference in block size. The initial Randall Plan had called for a standard block size defined by his grid of streets and avenues but in the case of the East Side, property developers added two additional avenues - Madison and Lexington - effectively halving block size.

Jacobs reasoned that the reduced block size greatly increased the permeability of the city and allowed distances between people's homes, places of work, places to shop, eat etc to be reduced. This would increase the attractiveness of the area as a residential zone and increase the market for any businesses setting up shop there.

The difference in vibrancy between the East and West side is notable. I remember walking along a street in the West side when I went to New York a few years ago and thinking that if I was going to be mugged in New York, it would be here. That wasn't because the people or area seemed threatening - just that there were so few people around, which was so different from the rest of the city.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I thought there was more public housing on the West side below Harlem? I noticed a lot of them on the other side of Columbus. There, the world changes.
 
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