Remarks by Dr. Judith Rodin at the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal Ceremony
March 14, 2013
Thank you, all, and welcome to the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal Ceremony.
No, you haven’t travelled back in time. There’s no need to reset the dates on your smartphones, or re-learn all the dance moves to Gangnam Style that you’ve hopefully forgotten over the last few months.
No — the year is indeed 2013. But as you may recall, we were supposed to meet here together on November 14, 2012, to honor some terrific New Yorkers who have been re-imagining our urban landscape.
But, nature, as it often does, had other plans. Rather than re-imagining what that landscape could be –Superstorm Sandy came barreling up the coast to do a bit of re-arranging herself.
Many of us spent November 14 still grappling with the devastation she left in her wake. Too many New Yorkers continue to grapple with those effects still today – three months later, but, as always we will come back stronger than ever.
And so while our celebration has had cause for delay, the importance and significance of each of tonight’s honorees never been more apparent – or more vital to our future.
I can say with good confidence that had any of these individuals chosen a different course for their life’s work, New York City would not be able to bounce back as well as we will thanks to their leadership and innovation.
How can I be so sure?
After the storm, Governor Cuomo asked the Rockefeller Foundation to help lead the NYS 2100 Commission, on which I served as co-chair, to make recommendations on how New York State could become more resilient to future shocks and disruptions.
We identified many vulnerabilities across systems and sectors. There was much to do to aid the recovery and more to do to build the resilience of our infrastructure.
But the incredible innovation and collaboration of New Yorkers was resolute. I was struck particularly by the stories of heroism during the storm – neighbors helping neighbors, entire blocks forming human chains to ensure everyone reached safety. Friends and families opening doors to those displaced by the storms…evidence of the strength of the social resilience that the work of tonight’s honorees has helped reinforce across the city through shared open spaces and communities designed to foster strong social networks and a sense of genuine belonging.
And perhaps none of them could have had the impact they’ve had if it weren’t for Jane Jacobs herself.
In 1958, the Rockefeller Foundation gave a small grant to a woman named Jane Jacobs so she could write a book about the birth and life of cities.
“Sex and the City,” she titled it.
I am kidding, but Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha would have been living very different lives in a very different city if not for the real book: “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” released in 1961.
The city thrives, thanks in part to Jane and all those who took inspiration from her magnum opus, which sparked the creation of the field of urban planning and design.
To quote the New York Times, Jane wanted this city – and all cities – to be a “jumping, joyous urban jumble.”
Which is why, tonight, we have an open bar.
So at long last we are here to celebrate the achievements of those who are following in Jane Jacobs’ footsteps. And this year, we have more to celebrate than usual.
For one, the Rockefeller Foundation is marking our centennial year. One hundred years of innovation and contribution to people around the world, and of course, here in our great hometown.
Another reason to celebrate: we’ve added a third award, the Jane Jacobs Medal in New Technology and Innovation, to our line up.
So we are excited about this new award, and even more so by all of tonight’s awardees, leaders who are looking ahead to the future of the city. An urban future where big ideas come to life.
Leaders like Ron Shiffman for lifetime achievement — a mentor and a leader to a generation of young urban planners and architects.
Ron began his work on behalf of urban communities in the early 1960s, when he developed one of the first community development corporations in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Ron went on to found the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development in 1964, which to this day is helping low and middle-income communities take control of their future.
The Village Voice once wrote that Ron “saved more NYC neighborhoods than Robert Moses destroyed.” But of course, he did so much more than save them. He empowered them to change and grow.
Ron’s like the Martin Scorsese of urban development. As one of his nominators said, the only question about Ron and the Jane Jacobs Medal is not if he has earned it, but when his time would come.
And then, of course, there’s Rosanne Haggerty. Rosanne is, quite simply, a “genius.” That’s not only my opinion. It’s also the opinion of the MacArthur Foundation, which tabbed Rosanne a “genius” for her innovations in housing development. Rosanne founded Common Ground in 1990, and she has pioneered ideas and methods to provide a path out of homelessness and into quality housing for thousands of people.
But we are honoring Rosanne tonight for her more recent new idea and activism – the founding of the Brownsville Partnership through her new organization, Community Solutions.
Rosanne and her partners spent years getting to know the community to find out what they dreamed for themselves and their children – safety, education, a home.
The Brownsville Partnership – a collaboration of more than a dozen service-providers such as non-profits, government agencies, and partnership organizations – is rooted in the concept of “collective impact” an idea that Jane would have loved, the idea that no one organization or project can transform a community, but that multiple stakeholders, focused on common goals, using transparent measurements of progress, and working against a clear time frame can create profound change.
Together the collaboration is developing shared indicators of impact on families for the sake of preventing homelessness. And during the past year alone, the Brownsville Partnership has prevented evictions for over a hundred families.
The need for continued collective impact is the reason why Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney founded iboy, the first ever microphilanthropic website for local environmental causes.
ioby stands for “in our back yard,” an ironic counter to insidious NIMBY-ism, and that’s exactly how Cassie, Erin, and Brandon are changing the world: One back yard at a time, through a social platform that uses technology to connect local philanthropy to local ingenuity.
They call it crowd-resourcing. A play on words, but a fitting one – that combines the power of crowd-funding smaller donations with the resources that will sustain a project and ensure its long-term success.
ioby has successfully raised funds for over 100 community environmental projects, with close to another 100 on the way, raising nearly more than $400,000 in the process. Through their innovative use of social technology, they have created a new way for New York to grow.
Which brings me to our final honoree, Carl Skelton. Carl is the innovator behind Betaville, an open-source program that helps urban planners, communities, and individuals develop their ideas…test and model their effects…and share them with the world.
Imagine a computer model of a new building, a street corner, or a park. Now imagine that all residents with a stake in that new project could play with that model, test out their own ideas, and share their insights with the wider community.
That’s what Carl has made possible. Technology that enables real, participatory development. Technology that is now at work, drawing on community input for a project to link downtown Brooklyn to its waterfront.
So to Ron, Rosanne, Cassie, Erin, Brandon, and Carl, thank you. Thank you for expending your ideas, your talents, your leadership, to breathe continued life into our city in the best tradition of Jane Jacobs…your work makes New York a stronger, more resilient engines of opportunity, innovation and equity for the world.
Jane Jacobs would be proud of you.