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Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York Exhibit to Open

On September 25, the Municipal Art Society’s exciting new exhibition Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York opens in Urban Center Galleries. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, this innovative show reevaluates the legacy and values of renowned New York activist Jane Jacobs through the lens of the city of today and tomorrow using images, text and multimedia. It is the centerpiece of a major MAS campaign aiming to energize a new generation of New Yorkers to observe and recognize the best of their city and become citizen activists advocating for positive change.

Why Jane?

In her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs famously articulated the magic of large cities and the magnitude of the social destruction that can be caused by ill-conceived redevelopment plans. Jacobs’ writings and public advocacy are best-known for having successfully opposed urban planner Robert Moses’ plans to bulldoze large portions of historic downtown to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) in the 1960s. In doing so, she changed the way we look at cities and showed us the wonders that arise in communities of every sort.

Why Now?

Today, development is changing New York City on a wider scale and much faster than ever seemed possible in the past. Entire neighborhoods have recently been rezoned and more large-scale developments are either under consideration or already underway than at any time in the last 30 years. The way these developments are changing the texture of the city, both the tangible and intangible components, is causing many New Yorkers to feel a deepening sense of alienation from the places they know and love. [A recent poll commissioned by MAS found that 58% of respondents are concerned that their neighborhood may lose its unique character due to redevelopment.]

However, the public’s ill-ease at this helter-skelter pace of development and the Mayor’s PlaNYC2030 program present an unprecedented opportunity to initiate a citywide dialogue concerning the current direction of the city. The exhibit aims to capitalize on this by broadening discussions of environmental sustainability, community planning and urban vitality using Jacobs’ legacy as a powerful model for those who want to take immediate action to ensure New York’s livability for generations to come.

Highlighting the context and continued relevance of Jacobs’ work, the exhibit draws visitors’ attention to the many elusive elements that together make a vibrant city. The final station in the exhibit is a purpose-built website providing interactive maps, tools and resources designed to promote communication and action among activists for a sustainable future.

A series of public programs with high profile panelists (click here for details) during the fall will continue to expand on the message of the exhibit by promoting provocative discussion and further action on a range of topics related to Jane Jacobs’ legacy and the future of planning, zoning and development in New York City.

A book publication, Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, containing essays by a variety of celebrated critics and journalists elaborating on Jacobs’ relevance today accompanies the exhibit and is available for pre-order from September 10, or purchase at the MAS bookstore, Urban Center Books, from September 25.

Jane Jacobs believed that everyone can contribute to advocating for a more livable city, and MAS hopes that the exhibit, public programs and interactive website will encourage you to do just that.