By Andrew Berman
On May 4th, Jane Jacobs would have turned one hundred years old. We at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) marked the occasion with a panel discussion by Jane Jacobs scholars and experts in the field examining her legacy. But perhaps more importantly, we took the opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to the ideals she espoused, which are needed now more than ever.
Jane was a fierce advocate for landmark designation to protect historic sites as vital parts of our neighborhood. In the years since Jane’s work in the Village, GVSHP has been able to help secure landmark designation of over 1,100 buildings in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, including nine of ten buildings along the Greenwich Village waterfront for which Jane tried to get landmark protections in the 1960s. We are currently pushing for expanded landmark protections for as-yet unprotected areas of the Village like the South Village, and pushing back against applications for inappropriate changes in our landmarked areas, such as proposals for oversized developments on Jane Street and Gansevoort Street.
Jane extolled the virtues of a vital mix of local small businesses. We try to continue that work with our Business of the Month program, Annual Village Awards honoring local small businesses, and advocating for protections for small businesses and against the oversaturation of chain stores.
Jane Jacobs pushed back against mega-developments and large institutions that would overwhelm neighborhoods and eliminate diversity. GVSHP continues that effort, opposing oversized expansion plans by NYU and other large institutions and big developers.
Jane Jacobs called for allowing communities to determine their own fates, rather than developers or government planners to impose their vision upon them. GVSHP works every day to monitor more than 6,500 building lots in our neighborhood for development plans, and connects the public to the process for determining their future.
At GVSHP, we feel a special sense of connection to Jane Jacobs. Perhaps no single person more profoundly informs our mission and work. Jane served on our Board of Advisors until her death in 2006. She allowed us to do an oral history with her, which is available on our website, preserving her memories and insights for generations to continue to learn from. And when she died in 2006, along with the Center for the Living City, GVSHP staged a public memorial for her in Washington Square Park, where she successfully fought to prevent an on-ramp for the Lower Manhattan Expressway from being built. And in 2009, we got the block of Hudson Street in front of her home renamed Jane Jacobs Way.
With real estate forces ever more in control in our city and at City Hall, it’s critical that we re-examine and re-dedicate ourselves to the vision for our neighborhoods and our city that Jane put forward.
Andrew Berman is the Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.