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Ron Shiffman, Jane Jacobs medal winner, speaks on his history, the importance of "qualitative growth," and role of DDDB

On Thursday, 3/14/13, community planner Ron Shiffman (right), received the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership, presented by the Rockefeller Foundation. The press release is at bottom, and here's the Storify account of the evening, in tweets.

Shiffman, in both his speech and in the pre-speech video about him, made reference to his work with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, where he served on the board of directors and wrote a 2006 essay explaining his opposition to Atlantic Yards, citing a flawed process and extreme density.

Shiffman's speech

Shiffman gave me a copy of his speech, which he edited to meet time constraints, so he did not deliver the remarks in gray. He first thanked the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Art Society, which administers the awards:
I am truly honored to be this year’s Jane Jacobs awardee. Jane played a pivotal role in forging the way we think about people, cities and the economy. The position I filled at Pratt 50 years ago was ironically created because of Jane’s advocacy against a Pratt planning proposal for an area of Brooklyn now known as Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill– an action I will forever be grateful for. Brooklyn benefitted because a well intentioned but misguided plan was defeated and I benefitted because I got the job opportunity of a lifetime - for that I would like to thank my mentor, George Raymond.

I had the honor to meet Jane a few times, almost always with my good friend Roberta Gratz. In the early 70’s, Roberta and I took Jane on a tour of the South Bronx where my colleagues and I were working with community residents committed to rebuilding their communities - the Peoples Development Corporation and Banana Kelly. Jane immediately sensed that this -- not planned shrinkage as proposed by some --was the way to rebuild our vulnerable communities.

One of Jane’s greatest attributes was to give voice to those who struggled to preserve and revitalize their community, an effort which many others were engaged in -- Elsie Richardson, Don Benjamin and Judge Jones in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ramon Reguiera in South Brooklyn, Elizabeth Yeampierre in Sunset Park, Yolanda Garcia and Kelly Terry-Sepulveda in the South Bronx, Fran Goldin in Cooper Square, Chino Garcia, Rabbit and Ruthie Nazario and Demaris Reyes in the Lower East Side, Ellen Lurie and Roger Katan in East Harlem, Luis Garden Acosta, Frances Lucerna in Williamsburg, and Pat Simon and Jeanne DuPont in the Rockaways, and many others.

Jane understood the struggle of groups like Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, where Daniel Goldstein and Shabnam Merchant whose opposition to the misuse of eminent domain and the abuse of power by some in the development community pitted them against the some of the city’s most powerful entities. She inspired journalists like Norm Oder to put voice to their struggles.

She set the stage for community organizers like Eddie Bautista to mobilize communities to speak out against environmental injustices. This award must be shared with them and many others in and outside of this this room.

I would be remiss not to mention that Jane’s influence was enhanced by knowing and working with advocates like Paul and Linda Davidoff, Chester Hartman, and Walter Thabit, Jon Kest and the rest of the activists at ACORN as well as folks like Richard Kahan, Joe McNeely, and Mayor David Dinkins.

I also want acknowledge my wife and partner of close to 54 years, Yvette –whose influence and support has been immeasurable. This award is as much hers as it is mine. I want to acknowledge my kids and their respective spouses, and my brother and sister–in-law –all have been a source of motivation and support. My grandkids motivate every action I engage in.
I will always be indebted to those that worked with me at the Pratt Center – Rudy Bryant, Brian Sullivan, Cathy Herman, Naomi Johnson, Eva Alligood, Rex Curry, Frank DeGiovanni, Mercedes Rodriguez, Mannix Gordon, Eve Baron and Joan Byron, and many others too numerous to mention, for they all sacrificed and contributed mightily to the work we engaged in collectively.

I’d like to acknowledge my successors at the Pratt Center -- Councilman Brad Lander and Adam Friedman and to the Pratt administration that supported our efforts – President Thomas Schutte and Richardson Pratt before him and trustees Mitchell Pratt and Gary Hattem.
My thanks go especially to to the students of Pratt that kept us focused on innovation and true to the principles we espoused, and to my colleagues on the Pratt Planning faculty –Eve Baron, Eva Hanhardt, John Shapiro, Ayse Yonder, Carlton Brown, Jaime Stein, Eddie Bautista and Stuart Pertz ably led by John Shapiro.

Most importantly, I want to thank the people we worked with that taught me to build upon their assets to help them overcome their problems—problems often spawned by public policies that fostered displacement and allowed poverty to fester in many corners of our city.
We have accomplished much over the years that I am proud of, but we have left yet undone a plethora of problems that the next generation of planners, community activists and organizers must continue to address:
* the social, economic and environmental injustices that make us all weaker,
* the privatization of public space and public functions,
* the growing economic segregation of our city or, as Mindy Fullilove, my friend calls it, the “sorting” of the city, and* the challenges of climate change – which we must aggressively and creatively confront.

On behalf of my grandkids and their generation, I fervently pray that all of us in this room are ready to tackle these problems with renewed vigor. As an unapologetic optimist, I do believe that we will overcome these challenges with vision, commitment and an ever-abiding trust in our neighbors and that we will prevail.
I was surprised to be mentioned; Jacobs has inspired me somewhat retroactively. I began writing about Atlantic Yards with little knowledge of her work, but I have found valuable critic Paul Goldberger's observation: "So if there is any way to follow Jane Jacobs, it is to think of her as showing us not a physical model for city form but rather a perceptual model for skepticism."

On video

In the video below, played before Shiffman's remarks, he described his history:
I studied architecture at Pratt, then went into the Department of City and Regional Planning...
In 1963, a group of ministers from Bed-Study came to Pratt asking for some technical assistance. The city had proposed an urban renewal plan for Fulton Park. They were very concerned with what the city might do, because.. urban renewal was rightly called Negro Removal.
We began to develop an overall plan... one that integrated social economic as well as physical revitalization...Robert Kennedy was planning to run for Senate.. and we.. toured him through the community... worked with his staff... community's ideas plus input from Kennedy and people he brought in led to development of first Community Development Corporation.
I think community development needs to deal with qualitative growth, that it's just not bigger buildings and more of anything, but getting things to be better than they are today.
And the biggest challenge, I'd suggest, is managing qualitative growth along with quantitative growth, as with a growing city.

Shiffman continued:
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn is one of a series of communities that we've worked with over the years. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn led the opposition to Atlantic Yards and to what is now known as the Barclays Center. One of the things I did with them is clarify some of their positions. They really wanted to see development take place, but they wanted it done responsibly and wanted to make sure it didn't abuse some of the powers of the state.
He cited two of the many lessons from Jacobs:
To learn to observe, to see what is going on in a particular place and to  look at it on the ground level...
the other one is that she demonstrated that being an activist and being a thinker really should not be separated and should give people the courage to fight on their own behalf.
Even people that never read her or met her or never know about her emulate her because of ripple effect of her actions.
I think I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world. I started this work when I was 26 years old... Kt's always been innovative, it's always changed. I've met some of the most fabulous people. From a very selfish perspective, I could not have written a more enjoyable scenario... The pay is terrible, but the riches come from the interactions with the people that you're working with.
The March 14 press release

The Rockefeller Foundation Honors 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal Winners: Now accepting nominations for 2013 Jane Jacobs Medals:
NEW YORK – Today Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin is awarding 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 medal ceremony had been previously scheduled for November 2012, but due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy the Foundation postponed the ceremony until today. As New York City is rebuilding, the consequences of the storm further highlight the importance of annually honoring leaders 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 more resilient place of hope and expectation. The Foundation is also announcing that the official nominating process for the 2013 Jane Jacobs Medals opens today.
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.
Along with the medal, each recipient will receive a cash award. 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.
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, and this year's winners embody the very best of Jane Jacobs by working to give a voice to every resident," said Dr. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation. "As our community continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it is important to celebrate the leadership and innovation of each of the honorees, who have helped create a strong and resilient city through their work."
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, an organization that brings community voices into the planning process for development projects in Brooklyn such as Atlantic Yards. For his tireless pursuit of, and belief in, the power of community-based groups to change the makeup of New York City for the better, Ronald Shiffman is the 2012 recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership.
Rosanne Haggerty has been a pioneer in the development of supportive housing and other research-based practices that end homelessness. In 1990, Ms. Haggerty founded Common Ground – a nonprofit housing development and managing organization that provides innovative shelters for homeless adults. Common Ground's network of well designed, affordable apartments, which link people to the services they need to maintain their housing, restore their health, and regain their economic independence, has enabled more than 4,000 individuals to overcome homelessness. Ms. Haggerty's work has served as a model for cities around the world.
Most recently, Ms. Haggerty established Community Solutions, a national nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen communities to end homelessness. Community Solutions' cornerstone efforts include the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which seeks to collectively house 100,000 homeless individuals and families by July of 2013. Community Solutions has also been central in the development of the Brownsville Partnership, which coordinates the efforts of all the service providers in that low-income Brooklyn neighborhood towards the end of homelessness-prevention. For her creative energy and ceaseless efforts to create shelters for the homeless and to provide the people it serves with dignity and the means to reintegrate into the community, Rosanne Haggerty is the 2012 recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism.
The three co-founders of ioby, Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney, combined their passions for water conservation, climate change, community resources, and green initiatives to develop real change on the streets of New York City. ioby focused on bringing sunlight, open space, fresh food and greenery IOBY (in our backyards). ioby connects people and money to site-based environmental projects, which are conceived of, designed, and run by neighbors – ensuring community buy-in, long-term caretakers and daily reminders of what has been achieved.
Through the microfinance network, successful projects are magnified so they can benefit other neighborhoods, allowing the positive impact to ripple throughout the city. ioby has successfully funded 123 projects for an 82 percent success rate, with 80 more currently underway. A total of $262,640 has been raised for an average of $980 per project, and donors live an average of two miles from their projects. For making New York City a more dynamic and attractive place for current and future New Yorkers, Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney are the 2012 recipients of the Jane Jacobs Medal for New Technology and Innovation.
Carl Skelton has been devoted to using his creative and research work to build a bridge between the arts, design, technology, and community engagement disciplines. As part of this work, Mr. Skelton developed Betaville, an open-source multiplayer environment for real cities, in which ideas for new works of public art, architecture, urban design and development can be shared, discussed, tweaked, and brought to maturity with broad participation.
Mr. Skelton designed Betaville to be deployable by individuals, small groups, all the way up to professional design firms and government city planning departments. Most importantly Betaville allows for anything from the future of a street corner, a vacant lot or an entire city, to be tinkered with on an ongoing basis at little cost by the full spectrum of subject matter experts. For working to integrate all voices into the conversation around city planning and building, Carl Skelton is the 2012 recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal for New Technology and Innovation.

The selection of the Jane Jacobs Medalists and allocation of the prize money was determined by the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal Jury, chaired by Dr. Rodin. The Jury also includes Richard Kahan, Founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly and recipient of the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership; Reggie Van Lee, Executive Vice President, Booze Allen Hamilton; Susan Freedman, President of the Public Art Fund; and Bruce Nussbaum, Professor of Design & Innovation at Parsons The New School for Design and Former Assistant Managing Editor of Business Week. The 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal is administered by the Municipal Art Society (MAS).
The Rockefeller Foundation is now looking for nominations for the 2013 Jane Jacobs Medals – for lifetime leadership and new ideas and activism. Nominees should demonstrate any or all of the following qualities:
  • Open our eyes to a new way of seeing and understanding New York City;
  • Generate a new way to think about the development and the preservation of the urban environments – specifically in New York City;
  • Demonstrate an innovative approach to how we think about neighborhoods and leadership for how we solve problems within them.
The nomination process will be open through the end of April. To nominate someone for any of the 2013 Jane Jacobs Medals, please visit:
Municipal Art Society
The MAS, founded in 1893, is a non-profit membership organization committed to making New York a more livable city through education, dialogue and advocacy for intelligent urban planning, design and preservation. For more information, visit
The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation aims to achieve equitable growth by expanding opportunity for more people in more places worldwide, and to build resilience by helping them prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from acute shocks and chronic stresses. Throughout its 100 year history, The Rockefeller Foundation has enhanced the impact of innovative thinkers and actors working to change the world by providing the resources, networks, convening power, and technologies to move them from idea to impact. In today's dynamic and interconnected world, The Rockefeller Foundation has a unique ability to address the emerging challenges facing humankind through innovation, intervention and influence in order to shape agendas and inform decision making. For more information, please


  1. The main reason that Jane Jacobs could focus on the importance of neighborhoods (e.g.) the West Village is/was Rent Control. No Rent regulations = no neighborhood.

    George L


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