The Jane Jacobs Medal was created in 2007 to honor the author and activist who died in April 2006 at the age of 89. Our relationship with Jane Jacobs dates back to the 1950s, when the Foundation made a grant to the then-obscure writer from Greenwich Village, for the research and writing of the book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Now more than fifty years later, Jane Jacobs’ work remains one of the most influential books ever written on urban design.
Medals are awarded to two living persons whose accomplishments represent Jane Jacobs’ principles and practices in action in New York City. The selection of the winners and allocation of the prize money—totaling $200,000—are decided by the members of a medal selection jury.
Honoring the Visionary Urban Activist
Writer and activist Jane Jacobs
In 2007, the year after the visionary urban activist Jane Jacobs died, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Jane Jacobs annual award to honor her work. This medal reaffirms the Foundation’s commitment to New York City by recognizing those whose creative uses of the urban environment build a more diverse, dynamic and equitable city.
Jane Jacobs' ties to the Rockefeller Foundation stretch back a half-century (to 1958) when this relatively unknown scholar received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to expand upon her ideas about how a city should look and feel and work. The book she published in 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, transformed how city dwellers and scholars think about cities and urban planning.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everyone,” Jacobs wrote, “only because and only when they are created by everybody.”
Today, more than 50 years later, her book is still regarded as one of the key texts for American architects and urban planners. Jacobs challenged the prevailing assumptions of what makes a city thrive. Her harsh criticism of “slum-clearing” and high-rise housing projects was instrumental in discrediting what were, up until then, universally supported planning practices. She called on urban residents to nurture what she termed the “intricate mingling” and “sidewalk ballet” of the city. And she reminded us that if cities and the neighborhoods within them are to succeed, the people affected by city policy must have a voice in setting the policies that shape the texture and fabric of daily life in those cities.
Jane Jacobs’ Principles
Winners of the Jane Jacobs Medal support her principles, which encompass the following values and ideas:
- Make New York City a place of hope and expectation that attracts new people and new ideas
- Challenge traditional assumptions and conventional thinking
- Promote dynamism, density and diversity
- Generate new principles for the way we think about development and preservation in New York City
- Take a common-sense approach to complex problems
- Provide leadership in solving common problems
- Respect neighborhood knowledge
- Generate creative use of the urban environment