Both categories of awards were richly deserved. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founder of the Central Park Conservancy, helped revive the city's jewel, once shockingly deteriorated and neglected.
Josh David and Robert Hammond, founder of Friends of the High Line, saw civic possibilities in a long-neglected piece of infrastructure slated for demolition.
And the presenters of each award, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden, respectively, could proudly, affectinately claim mayoral endorsement for both projects.
And the disconnect
But we shouldn't be misled into thinking that the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and followers of famed urbanist Jane Jacobs are always on the same page.
Consider that, in a video shown to attendees, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger expressed his amazement--as he has written--that backers of the West Side Stadium portrayed the gargantuan project as expressing Jacobsian mixed-use ideals because it contained retail elements at the street level.
Bloomberg, of course, backed the West Side Stadium to the hilt.
Consider that, in one of her last public statements, Jacobs, who had long lived in Toronto but maintained affection for and attention to New York City, wrote a tough open letter criticizing the Bloomberg administration's plans for rezoning Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
Such criticisms have even more weight today, when those neighborhoods face a disproportionate share of stalled construction sites.
And consider that Benepe and Burden, however committed they are to the Jacobsian ideals, have had to swallow and endorse some very questionable moves by the mayor who appointed them, such as the loss of parkland for a new Yankee Stadium, or the creation of superblocks and surface parking on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project.
The Jacobs influence
In their remarks Monday night, the awardees cited the influence of Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Barlow Rogers called it one of the most important books in her life, though she recognized, when she applied to planning schools, that it was anathema to received wisdom.
David, a travel writer turned accidental activist, said he'd read the book just before starting his involvement. It had never occurred to him that he could have an impact on the built environment, but the book inspired him.
There, at a community board meeting, he met a kindred spirit, Hammond, and together, with the help of some heavy hitters they recruited (it didn't hurt that Hammond was a college friend of then City Council President Gifford Miller), they built a movement.
David said that Jacobs' proposal that cities be divided into administrative districts helped create the community board system. (I hadn't heard that.) So, in this case, the system worked: "Jane Jacobs built the room where the High Line, as we know it, was born."
And that room, of course, was ignored completely in the Atlantic Yards approval process, as the city agreed to cede control to the Empire State Development Corporation and its unelected board, thus bypassing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).