Saturday, February 24, 2007

what would jane say?

a weighty jury including ronald shiffman (director emeritus of the pratt center for community development), john reddick (education director at the central park conservancy), arts patron agnes gund (president emerita of moma), cooper union president george campbell jr., “the new yorker” architecture critic paul goldberger, and david rockefeller jr. will decide on recipients of the newly created “jane jacobs medal.” this award will honor the activist, author, and urbanist who helped stop the desecration wrought by robert moses on new york city. two “jane jacobs medals” will be awarded by the rockefeller foundation annually to living individuals “whose creative vision for the urban environment has significantly contributed to the vibrancy and variety of new york city.”

at stake in award of these medals are prizes totaling $200,000, with one medal recognizing leadership and lifetime contributions while the other will recognize new ideas and activism reflecting jane jacob’s ideals. together, the two medalists will represent the creativity, innovation, and dynamism of gotham.

working with the rockefeller foundation to administer these medals will be the municipal art society of new york, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes a more livable city through advocacy in urban design and planning, contemporary architecture, historic preservation, and public art. interestingly, the rockefeller foundation had an important--though little known--relationship to jacobs, who died at the age of 89 in april 2006.

in the 1950s, the rockefeller foundation launched an “urban design studies program” that helped foster the emergence of urban design and theory. as part of this groundbreaking initiative, the foundation issued a grant to jane jacobs, the then-obscure writer from greenwich village, to research and write “the death and life of great american cities”--now considered a classic.

beyond her writing and theory--which re-evaluated the balance between the needs of urban environments and those of living communities--jane jacobs is revered for her legendary and successful street activism against robert moses’ proposed lower manhattan expressway that inspired communities internationally as well as in new york city and the united states. had that expressway gone through, its construction would have decimated neighborhoods such as the village and soho.

sadly, new york city lost its indomitable champion when jacobs--a vociferous opponent of the vietnam war--exiled herself from the u.s. in 1968 in order to prevent her two draft-age sons from having to serve in that conflict. jacobs settled in toronto, where she resumed her visible neighborhood activism and her architect husband found ample work. ultimately, she became a canadian citizen in the mid-1970s.

set for a june 2007 announcement, the award ceremony will occur in september to coincide with an exhibit on jacobs opening at the municipal art society. nominations for the “jane jacobs medal” must be electronically submitted to the rockefeller foundation by 5 pm on march 2. with assets in excess of $3.5 billion, the foundation is one of the nation's largest.

for more information on jacobs and the award, go to:

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