Jane Jacobs' Vision Lives on in West Village Houses
From the New York Sun
West Village Houses a Monument to a 1960s Development Battle
By JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN
Special to the Sun
August 30, 2007
Few strategic victories have been memorialized in such an unprepossessing, undecorated fashion as Jane Jacobs’s vanquishing of Robert Moses’s effort to alter the makeup of Greenwich Village in the 1960s.
The West Village Houses, a grouping of 42 five-story walkups, are a living testimony to that victory by Jacobs and her fellow New Yorkers. Without great arches or heroic statuary, the houses are plain brick buildings punctured by small windows, topped by flat roofs, and unadorned by anything other than an occasional window box of flowers.
Bounded by Washington Street on the east, Morton Street on the south, West Street on the west, and Bank Street on the north, the stubby West Village Houses were built in place of the towers the Wagner administration had preferred.
Conceived in idealism, their construction fell prey to a decade of delays and escalating construction costs that ate away at the architectural standards Jacobs had first proposed. By the time they opened in 1974, the houses were reviled by Jacobs as well as by most architectural critics, despite having been designed by the distinguished architectural firm of Perkins and Will. Indeed, the New York Times once called the houses “an unloved failure.”
Yet many residents say Jacobs’s vision endures. “This is a very alive building,” playwright Suzanne Stout said of her apartment house on Washington Street. “We know one another and, if a calamity occurs, we take care of one another. Jane Jacobs was right. She understood community. Her ideas work.”