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Jane Jacobs and the Hudson Street Ballet
I read Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities years before I moved to New York, back when I wrote for community newspapers in my home state of Delaware. Jacobs wrote sensibly, without pretense. She observed things closely, and drew logical conclusions. She obviously cared about her subject passionately, but her arguments were not emotional. They were deductive. I admired Jacobs tremendously.
Years later I was happy to find myself walking by Jacobs’ Hudson Street home where she wrote her seminal work. I passed 555 Hudson Street on my daily journey from Chelsea to the Village and I felt part of the “ballet” of the street that helped the neighborhood function. Hudson Street is still alive with a variety of people, coming and going about their business — the school kids, the nannies and mothers (and some fathers) with baby carriages, the dogs and their walkers, the business people, the commuters from the PATH train, the parents talking outside of PS 3, the flower sellers, the cooks and waiters and counter help in the delis and diners and innumerable others — mostly strangers who form the fabric of a healthy neighborhood. Jacobs expressed concern about the future of cities, but I could see that the Village remains an example of a healthy neighborhood.
So for Jacobs’ birthday on May 4, celebrate by taking a walk in the Village.
Here, in her own words, Jacobs about cities and society:
Great cities are not like towns, only larger. They are not like suburbs, only denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of them is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers.
It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things do work, but only what kind of quick, easy outer impression they give. If so, there is little hope for our cities or probably for much else in our society. But I do not think this is so.
Virtually all ideologues, of any variety, are fearful and insecure, which is why they are drawn to ideologies that promise prefabricated answers for all circumstances.