In an encore of The Business Beat, Steve Jones-D’Agostino talks with Joyce Mandell, founder of Jane Jacobs in the Woo, about making Worcester healthy and sustainable for all people. This episode aired originally on October 23, 2016.
Joyce Mandell has lived in Worcester for about 20 years, working for the Oak Hill Community Development Corp. before becoming an academic. In honor of urban theorist Jane Jacobs’ 100th birthday this past May, Mandell started the blog, “Jane Jacobs in the Woo,” to inaugurate a full year of community conversations and actions about building a vibrant Worcester. Jacobs was an urban writer and activist who championed new, community-based approaches to planning for more than 40 years. - and who died 10 years ago, in 2006.
The revolutionary ideas in Jacobs’ 1961 classic treatise, Death and Life of Great American Cities, were based on her observations of city life from her apartment above a candy store on Hudson Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village and her immersion out in the city streets. She was highly critical of modern urban planning and more specifically, urban-renewal practices of the 1950s that cleared out, in one stroke, whole vibrant neighborhoods considered blighted by city planners and developers.
Jacobs eschewed city planners who sat with maps in a room and instead urged people to know the true ecology of cities by going out into urban spaces to experience them. Based on her acute observations on what she described as the “street ballet” of city life, she promoted these main ideas for building thriving cities: mixed-use development; high-density neighborhoods; pedestrian- and bicycle-centered cities; and, bottom-up planning.
We have Jacobs to thank for saving Greenwich Village, a neighborhood targeted by New York powerbroker Robert Moses for construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Because of the activism of neighbors and supporters, the city rejected the proposal for that highway in 1964.