Our friend had just watched a documentary on BBC 4 ‘Citizen Jane: Battle for the City’ about Jane Jacobs, a journalist, author and activist in New York, who in the 50’s and 60’s was involved in fighting to stop the City Planning Commissioner Robert Moses from running roughshod over the City and demolishing historic neighbourhoods in pursuit of his modernist vision. Jane Jacobs was very concerned about many traditional areas of New York being destroyed by development and the communities that would be lost. The Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village was one of the places due to be destroyed by a planned four lane highway right through the popular meeting place. That plan was thwarted after the community formed a committee led by Shirley Hayes, Stanley Tankel, Jane and neighborhood resident Eleanor Roosevelt, who alongside many local Mothers fought against the plans. The seven-year battle to “Save the Square” was highlighted in Jane’s book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds.
The famous photo of the Multipla was taken by Claire Tankel, Stanley’s Wife on November 1, 1958 and captures the celebration set up by the Committee after a trial traffic stoppage went into effect. It shows Stanley driving the Fiat through Washington Square with a sign reading “Last Car Thru Washington Square”.
The rest as they say is History and one year later, Washington Square Park was permanently closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles.
The only remaining (and most important) question is… What happened to the Multipla!