Jane Jacobs and the fight for Washington Square Park

March 7 2017

This International Women’s Day, we’re focusing a little closer to home and exploring how the hard work of a group of Greenwich Village women kept a highway out of Washington Square Park.

Robert Moses plan for roads cutting through Washington Square Park, 1950s Courtesy of New York University Archives
Moses’ plan for roads cutting through Washington Square Park, 1950s. Courtesy of New York University Archives

In the 1940’s, NYC Parks Commissioner and infamous “master builder,” Robert Moses, made a series of plans for highways to cut right through the heart of Washington Square Park and Lower Manhattan. One of the plans would have split the park into two halves, with an elevated pedestrian walkway over the highway connecting the pieces. Moses’ plans were met with fierce opposition from Greenwich Village and Soho residents, including Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs banded with other women activists, including Shirley Hayes and Edith Lyons, to spearhead the battle against the dissection of Greenwich Village, fighting to preserve the area for pedestrians.

Jacobs showing documents as evidence at a press conference, 1961. Courtesy of Library of Congress
Jacobs showing documents as evidence at a press conference, 1961. Photo by Phil Stanziola, Courtesy of Library of Congress

Jacobs threw herself into the fight, sending letters to the mayor, organizing media and rallying the community to support the cause, something she was particularly good at. Jacobs saw the city streets as the life of the city itself, and that urban planning styles were removing cultural centers and replacing them with skyscrapers and multi-lane highways. Jacobs became, and remains, a face of urban renewal opposition, often arguing urban renewal does not have the people’s best interests in mind. Her thoroughness and commitment to the Village helped save Washington Square Park, an iconic space truly for the people.

Learn more about Jacob’s fight to keep traffic from the park.