Past Greenwich Avenue, 11th Street makes a 45-degree turn and veers off into what looks like a completely different city altogether. This is West Village, where the Goddess – Jane Jacobs – holds sway. It is a fantasy garden-world with bustling sidewalks, luxurious shade trees, fairytale cottages, and beautiful people strolling, chatting, reading, roller-blading, sipping espressos, pushing prams and doing other charming things beautiful people do.
The Goddess herself lived here for 30 years, at a townhouse on 555 Hudson Street, just south of 11th Street. In 1961, she would immortalize the West Village in a book entitled The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she railed against the indiscriminate bull-dozing of low-rise neighborhoods such as in West Village and their replacement by soul-less Modernist apartment blocks.
Her activism however, has been ultimately (and unfortunately) unable to stave off gentrification. Belying the pleasant, walkable streets and sidewalk cafes that still proliferate today are astronomical rents which have forced many original businesses – particularly along Bleecker Street – out and replaced them with upscale restaurants and brand-name boutiques. The most notorious of these boutiques are the five or so underwritten by the other Jacobs on the street: Marc (no relation to the Goddess).
As one explores these hallowed grounds, one cannot help but feel that all of it is not long for this world. The Goddess herself abandoned her Village for Toronto in the ’60s, and should she still be alive, would never be able to afford to strut her stuff here today.
For those who wish to retrace Her Footsteps from the very beginning of her illustrious career, check out the book, Genius of Common Sense – Jane Jacobs, and the Story ofThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, written and illustrated by Glenna Lang & Marjory Wunsch. Critics have called it “an inspiring story, deeply researched and beautifully told,” and “the clearest account anywhere of who Jane was, what she did for cities, and how she did it.”
I am indebted to New York Songlines (www.nysonglines.com) for the detailed information about landmarks on this street.