Jane Jacobs Alive and Well
May 4 would have been the 92nd birthday of Jane Jacobs and in honor of the date, the Rockefeller Foundation announced the winners of the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal. Jurors, like Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker, Marilyn Taylor of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and Agnes Gund of the Museum of Modern Art, selected Peggy Shepard for the Lifetime Leadership award and Alexie Torres-Fleming (pictured above) for the New Ideas and Activism award.
Both Shepard and Torres-Fleming have spent their careers fostering the same kind of grassroots activism and community building efforts espoused by Jacobs during her lifetime, and both advocate for environmental and social justice in urban planning.
As the executive director and co-founder of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc, Shepard (pictured at left) sued the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in 1988 for its careless operation of the North River Sewage Treatment Plant, winning a $1.1 million settlement. Shepard went on to become the first female chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Alexie Torres-Fleming left a budding career in Manhattan to found the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in the South Bronx. In 1968, when Jane Jacobs moved her family to Toronto in opposition to the Vietnam War, a young Torres-Fleming was watching her neighborhood burn. “The fires that led to the devastation of the South Bronx in the late 60’s and early 70’s still rage in my mind,” she has written. “I witnessed them day after day as a little girl perched on the ledge of my ninth floor window in the Bronx River Public Housing Projects. I was too little to understand things like ‘Planned Shrinkage,’ ‘Urban Renewal,’ ‘Divestment’ and ‘white flight’ back then. All I knew is that they were frightening and tumultuous times for me and all of the children of the South Bronx.” Today her organization works to empower the young people of this neighborhood.
Shepard and Torres-Fleming will be honored at a ceremony in September where they will each receive $100,000.