What Would Jane Jacobs Think?

Mr. Klemek, an Upper West Side resident who commutes to teach at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., once a week, suspects that Jacobs herself may have been part of the early gentrification trend. But she was, at the same time, immensely concerned about keeping her neighborhood diverse. After her community group defeated an urban renewal plan that would have torn down part of the neighborhood, it turned its attention to building affordable housing, a project that eventually became, many years later, the West Village Houses on Washington Street.

But the degree to which Jacobs would have lamented the undilapidated condition into which the West Village has fallen is a matter of some dispute.

“Jane did not see the Village as being gentrified in a negative way,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, a writer and social critic who founded the Center for the Living City at Purchase College with input from Jacobs. “Obviously, the businesses changed, but she never expected things not to change; but the essential character of the place she celebrated—the fabric, the feel, the diversity of the street life—are very much in keeping with what they were when she was writing about it.”

In April 2004, on her last book tour before her death, Jacobs dropped by the neighborhood once again to speak at a meeting called by the West Village Houses Tenants’ Association. Afterward, according to Ms. Gratz, who accompanied her to dinner that night, Jacobs was energized by the civic spirit she saw on display.

“I just remember her being exhilarated by the continued commitment and energy of the local citizenry, and she always felt that that would be what every community needs to sustain itself,” Ms. Gratz recalled. “She was just as cheerful as could be.”

What Would Jane Jacobs Think?