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Advocacy planner Ron Shiffman wins Jane Jacobs medal, work with DDDB cited (and let's revisit his June 2006 warning about Atlantic Yards)

Advocacy planner Ron Shiffman, who has a long history of work in Brooklyn (and a recent history of  Atlantic Yards activism), has won a major award. From the Rockefeller Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation Honors 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal Winners:
Today The Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin announced the recipients of the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal – Ronald Shiffman, Rosanne Haggerty, Carl Skelton, and the team from ioby – Erin Barnes, Brandon Whitney, and Cassie Flynn. The Medals are awarded each year to recipients whose work creates new ways of seeing and understanding New York City, challenges traditional assumptions and creatively uses the urban environment to make New York City a place of hope and expectation.
Mr. Shiffman, who has been a trailblazer in his development of the model for community development corporations, will receive the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership. Ms. Haggerty, the Founder of the Brownsville Partnership and an international leader in developing innovative strategies to end homelessness and strengthen communities, will receive the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. For the first time, a Jane Jacobs Medal for New Technology and Innovation will be awarded, with two winners: Carl Skelton and the team that founded ioby.
About Shiffman:
Ronald Shiffman has spent more than fifty years working to promote community-based activism. As a student in the early 1960s, Mr. Shiffman, along with Professor George Raymond and others, worked on a study of Bedford-Stuyvesant, anticipating a city urban renewal program planned for the neighborhood. The community consortium developed a comprehensive plan to rebuild Bedford-Stuyvesant through economic development programs that became a model for the creation of community development corporations today.
Mr Shiffman’s work in Bedford-Stuyvesant became the inspiration to create the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, founded by Mr. Shiffman and Dr. Raymond in 1964. The center continues today to empower low and moderate income communities in New York to plan for and realize their futures.
Just in the last few years, Mr. Shiffman has advised Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn [DDDB], an organization that brings community voices into the planning process for development projects in Brooklyn such as Atlantic Yards.
About DDDB

That's a rather tepid description of DDDB, which aimed not merely to bring community voices into planning, and has Shiffman on its board of directors.

Rather, it was founded to oppose Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan and the eminent domain abuse associated with it, and it proposed an alternative plan, the UNITY plan, on which Shiffman consulted.

Shiffman's warning

It's timely to revisit Shiffman's 6/3/06 essay for DDDB, Atlantic Yards: Staving Off a Scar for Decades:
While this area along the Atlantic Avenue corridor could accommodate higher densities, density is a relative term. The density proposed by Forest City Ratner far exceeds the carrying capacity of the area’s physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure. The Atlantic Yards density is extreme and the heights of the proposed buildings totally unacceptable.
...A private developer shouldn’t be allowed to drive the disposition of publicly owned or controlled land without a participatory planning process setting the conditions for the disposition of that land. 
That should serve as a warning to those Atlantic Yards critics who may prioritize the building of affordable housing over the delayed, court-ordered Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the second phase of the project.

Note that those behind state that there must be a new study of alternatives and a new plan that "prioritizes the creation of housing affordable to working families in Brooklyn." The tension there is that Forest City Ratner, and the state, may argue that only a plan of the density approved would be able to deliver such affordable housing--even though, so far, it has not come close to doing so.

Giving the money away

Most if not all the Jacobs medal recipients, it turns out, will donate their award funds, an indication that they--unlike Jane Jacobs, when she was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation--are secure enough in their careers/retirement that they don't need the money:
Mr. Shiffman will donate $50,000 of his award to the New York Community Trust and $25,000 to The Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment. Ms. Haggerty will donate her $75,000 award to Community Solutions, and each founder of ioby – Erin Barnes, Brandon Whitney, and Cassie Flynn will donate their $25,000 award to ioby. Carl Skelton will receive his $25,000 and decide how to distribute it subsequently.
Update from Shiffman: a debt to others

Shiffman elaborated in a message to me:
I wish it was true that I was comfortable enough not to need the money-- the fact is that I am comfortable to manage the debt that I do have but feel that my real debt is to those that I have collaborated with over the years. The money that I donated to Pratt will be for:
  • Continued work of the Pratt Graduate Planning Program's diversity committee, which is planning a conference on "diversity and planning issues" and is now planning another
  • Follow-up to a studio working with public housing tenants at Gowanus and Wyckoff Houses that have been adversely impacted by Atlantic Yards and to launch an initiative to help preserve and stabilize public housing.
  • Finance some of the post-publication initiatives that are an outgrowth of the book that I was the lead editor of (Beyond Zuccotti Park) focused on "Democracy, Equity and Public Space."
The money to New York Community Trust is to establish a small--a very small--family foundation that will focus on supporting efforts like DDDB's and the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition's effort, and make small annual contributions to efforts such as Brooklyn Workforce Innovation, The Fifth Avenue Committee and others.
The goal of the medals

According to the press release:
The Rockefeller Foundation Jane Jacobs Medal was created in 2007 to honor the author and activist who died in April 2006 at the age of 89. The Rockefeller Foundation’s 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.
“The Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medals recognize New Yorkers who use the urban environment to build a more equitable city for everyone,” said Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. “This year’s winners embody the very best of Jane Jacobs by working to give a voice to every resident –including the most vulnerable - on how we develop our city structures and policies. It is only when we integrate the entire community that we create the city Jacobs always imagined.


  1. I can't think of anyone more deserving of the Jane Jacobs Medal than Ron Shiffman, nor anyone who more embodies her spirit.


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