By the late 1950s, city government leaders had written off much of New York City’s downtown as a “blighted” zone, and they targeted some now-iconic areas for demolition. Into the fray stepped a West Village writer named Jane Jacobs, who helped preserve sizeable swaths of the downtown landscape, allowing people to transform largely abandoned industrial areas into places to live and make art. Jacobs’s first foray into activism began when she became aware of a plan hatched by the powerful city planner Robert Moses to put an expressway ramp through the middle of Washington Square Park. He was responsible for the hundreds of miles of expressways and bridges that linked New York City to the national interstate system, so Moses wouldn’t think twice about running a multilane roadway through the center of that beloved park. Jacobs joined the fight after 1956, when a coalition of Village groups formed to oppose Moses’s plans, and she soon took a leadership role, holding meetings at her apartment and organizing at the White Horse. “Jane Jacobs single-handedly saved the Village,” Bibbe Hansen said. “She was an incredible community activist, and she prevented the bulldozers from plowing that place.” Jacobs would go on to be a major thorn in Moses’s side, eventually causing city officials to scuttle his proposal to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run through SoHo, along Broome Street.
From Chapter 8 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore