Yes, today is Star Wars Day, but even more significantly, it's journalist and urban planning advocate Jane Jacobs's birthday. The trailblazing activist who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities and faced off against Robert Moses would have been 100 today, and Google's homepage features a cartoon of her, as well as the Washington Square Arch and other neighborhood elements reminiscent of Greenwich Village (where she lived). If you click on the doodle, Google directs users to learn more about her.
Google explains, "Jane Jacobs was a self-taught journalist and community organizer that supported keeping the city of New York diverse in shape and function. She stood by beloved neighborhoods that were unjustly slated for "renewal" and revealed political biases in the permit process for new projects. In Jacob's opinion, cities are for the people, and they're safest when residents mingle on the street and in local businesses. Jacobs developed her philosophy through living and interacting with the city itself, and described life on the city streets as a kind of social ballet."
She was instrumental in stopping Moses's pet project, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane expressway that would have divided Soho and Little Italy in order to connect the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges to the Holland Tunnel.
In a 2000 interview with Metropolis Magazine, she described moving to NYC in 1934 and living with her older sister Betty:
Well she moved to Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, to a house that is not there anymore. It was a six-story walk-up and we lived on the top floor. It was a nice neighborhood though. It was near the St. George Hotel. It was before the highways went in there. So I would go looking for a job every morning. I would look in the newspaper and see what seemed likely and which employment agencies were advertising. I would usually walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan because we were there near the Brooklyn Bridge. And then after I was turned down for all these jobs I would spend the rest of the day looking around where I had ended up.
Or if I had ended up in a place where I had already looked around I would spend a nickel on the subway and go arbitrarily to some other stop and look around there. So I was roaming the city in the afternoons and applying for jobs in the morning. And one day I found myself in a neighborhood I just liked so much…it was one of those times I had put a nickel in and just invested something. And where did I get out? I just liked the sound of the name: Christopher Street — so I got out at Christopher Street, and I was enchanted with this neighborhood, and walked around it all afternoon and then I rushed back to Brooklyn. And I said, "Betty I found out where we have to live." And she said, "Where is it?" And I said, "I don’t know, but you get in the subway and you get out at a place called Christopher Street." So we went to look for a place where you got out of the subway at Christopher Street.
She also recalled the single time she saw Robert Moses: "I saw him only once, at a hearing about the road through Washington Square, which was to be an entrance ramp to the lower Manhattan expressway. He was there briefly to speak his piece. But nobody was told that at the time. None of us had spoken yet because they always had the officials speak first and then they would go away and they wouldn’t listen to the people. Anyway, he stood up there gripping the railing, and he was furious at the effrontery of this and I guess he could already see that his plan was in danger. Because he was saying 'There is nobody against this—NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY, but a bunch of, a bunch of MOTHERS!' And then he stomped out."
Jacobs died in 2006, but her influential ideals are still having an impact today.