The Honor of Co-named Streets

Jane Jacobs Way

By Brian Pape

Photo by Brian J. Pape, AIA.

People have been honored here in Greenwich Village with co-naming of streets or places for them. Look for the special green signs below the regular street signs.

Here at the corner of Hudson Street and West 11th Street is the sign for Jane Jacobs Way, which signifies this block between Perry Street and West 11th Street as honoring Jane Jacobs (1916-2006). Jane and Robert Jacobs owned a townhouse at 555 Hudson Street, on this block, from 1944 until moving to Toronto Canada in 1968. They raised their three children there.

Jane Jacobs came to prominence as a community activist in Greenwich Village, where her efforts helped thwart the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, and heavy traffic bifurcating Washington Square Park. Her books, beginning with “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), argued that “urban renewal” and “slum clearance” did not respect the needs of city-dwellers, and have had a worldwide influence on urban planning.  While Jacobs saw her greatest legacy to be her contributions to economic theory, such as her “The Economy of Cities” (1969), and “The Nature of Economies” (2000), it is in the realm of urban planning that she has had her most extensive effect. Her observations about the ways in which cities function revolutionized the urban planning profession and discredited many accepted planning models that had dominated mid-century planning. Jacobs is remembered for leaving “a legacy of empowerment for citizens to trust their common sense and become advocates for their place; her arguments have been identified as universal.”

Jacobs (nee Butzner) was born and raised in Scranton, PA, but a year out of high school she moved to Brooklyn with her sister, in the midst of the Great Depression. Soon, they moved to Greenwich Village. When Jane met Robert while each were working at different government aspects of the World War II effort, they started their family here on Hudson Street. After moving to Canada, Jacobs continued her activism, quickly becoming a leading figure in her new city and helped stop the proposed Spadina Expressway. She also had an influence on Vancouver, Canada’s urban planning, and in Melbourne, Australia.

This street-naming honor was approved in 2006, shortly after the death of Ms. Jacobs. Upon her death her family’s statement noted: “What’s important is not that she died but that she lived, and that her life’s work has greatly influenced the way we think. Please remember her by reading her books and implementing her ideas.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a Jane Jacobs Day, held on June 28, 2006.

By 2016, Jane’s Walks were taking place in 212 cities in 36 countries on six continents. The interpretive walks typically apply ideas Jacobs identified or espoused to local areas, which are explored on foot and sometimes by bicycle.

The Rockefeller Foundation had awarded grants to Jacobs in the 1950s and 1960s, announced as a tribute to Jacobs in 2007 the creation of the Jane Jacobs Medal, “to recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to thinking about urban design.”