Historic plaque marks the Greenwich
Village home of Jane Jacobs
BY TEQUILA MINSKY
Jane Jacobs is the patron deity
of Greenwich Village.
For those of us living below
14th Street, we have Jacobs, her
observations and thinking, her
deep humanism, and fearless activism
to thank for preserving the
essence and vitality of our Lower
In 1961, she spells it all out in
her book The Death and Life of
American Cities: what makes cities
safe or not, what constitutes a
neighborhood, why some neighborhoods
remain poor and others
reconstitute themselves. She helps
defi ne what makes cities work.
Jacobs helped lead the campaign
to get cars out of Washington
Square. She helped defeat
Robert Moses’ planned Lower
Manhattan Expressway that
would have destroyed Soho, Little
Italy, the South Village, the Lower
East Side and parts of Chinatown.
She stopped plans for Urban
Renewal in West Village when
a dozen blocks would have been
razed and replaced with towers.
Jacobs’ ideas were formulated
while living in a Hudson Street
row house in Greenwich Village.
In late October, Village Preservation
held a virtual historic
plaque unveiling outside of 555
Hudson Street to acknowledge
and celebrate Jacobs. At this
home, built in 1842, Jacobs lived
for 21 years from 1947-1968,
when she moved to Toronto.
Andrew Berman, Executive
Director of Village Preservation,
explained how Jacobs didn’t buy
into the popular notions at that
time of how cities work. She came
up with how cities succeed with
her modus operandi of observation,
watching the “sidewalk ballet”
on Hudson Street— people
interacting with each other and
Actress Marisa Tomei opened the program with taped remarks.
New York-born, she gave voice to the writings of Jane
Jacobs in the documentary Citizen Jane: Battle For the City,
which utilized historical archival footage to tell the story of
writer/activist Jane Jacobs.
During the program’s introduction
Berman emphasized, “She
made us realize that sense of place
is really important.” She believed
that old buildings shouldn’t be
tossed aside; there is value in their
resilience, reuse, and connection
to history and culture.
“She taught us that the experts
don’t always have all the answers.”
Jacobs understood that when it
comes to urban development,
local communities need to have
a place at the decision-making
In the 2016 fi lm “Citizen Jane,”
actress Marissa Tomei is the voice
of Jane Jacobs—reading her
words in Matt Tyrhauer’s fi lm.
Tomei kicked off the formal part
PHOTOS BY TEQUILA MINSKY
of the plaque dedication program.
“We’re still fi ghting to have
a city with small independently
owned shops where we know
the owner,” Tomei says, “and
historic neighborhoods… and
where diversity is recognized and
Tomei spoke of being inspired
by Jacobs and of the importance
of getting involved “to make your
neighborhood, city and country a
The actual building’s owner
Susan Spehar has embraced the
spirit of Jane Jacobs while living
in 555 Hudson Street for 12 years.
“I feel her in here,” Spehar channels,
“hoping that some of her has
rubbed off on me.”
Spehar spoke of looking
through those very windows
Jacobs looked through to see the
street ballet: the weather, passersby,
people in cafes, laughter,
dog walkers, parking space arguments.
“It makes me feel like a
real New Yorker.”
The plaque that celebrates Jane Jacobs, the patron diety of
Greenwich Village. It reads: The author and urbanist bought
his 1842 rowhouse in 1947 and remained until 1968. She wrote
The Death and Life of Great Americadn Cities while living here.
“The history of this house will
always belong to New York City,”
says a very grateful Spehar.
Scholars, Dr. Mindy Thompson
Fullilove, professor of urban
policy and health at The New
School and Roberta Gratz, longtime
friend of Jacobs, journalist,
and co-founder with Jane of
the Center For the Living City
contributed to the evening’s
program, which can be seen in
The owner of the house where Jane Jacobs lived and wrote her
seminal book. Like Jacobs, Susan Spehar looks out of those
same windows as witnesses the ballet of the streets on Hudson.
full on YouTube: https://youtu.
A short video of the installation
and actual unveiling screened
during the virtual dedication.
Village Preservation’s historic
plaque program celebrates
important people, events, and
institutions connected to Greenwich
Village, East Village and
This dedication is the 16th
such historical plaque, joining
the home of painter Jean-Michel
Basquiat, writers James Baldwin
and Lorraine Hansberry, the
Filmore East, and the Martha
Graham Dance Studio, to name
a few. For the full list and map
of plaque locations: www.villagepreservation.
This program was co-hosted by
Center for the Living City, Jane’s
Walk and the Historic Districts
Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, social psychiatrist and professor
of urban policy and health at The New School is interested
in the relationship between the collapse of communities and
decline in health.
10 November 19, 2020 Schneps Media