The New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation has announced the inaugural recipients of its Jane Jacobs Medal, which recognizes individuals whose actions and accomplishments in New York City exemplify the late author and civic activist's principles. The medal, which is accompanied by a $100,000 cash award to each winner, will be awarded annually to two activists, one with a lifetime of experience and the other fairly new to the scene.
The first two winners of the award are Barry Benepe, who will receive the 2007 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership, and Omar Freilla, who will receive the 2007 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. Benepe, 79, co-founded Greenmarket, the largest farmer's market program in the United States, with sites in more than thirty neighborhoods across the five boroughs of New York City. An architect and planner by training, Benepe started the program in 1975 with an $800 grant from the America the Beautiful Fund and through it demonstrated how temporary markets could bring life back to the city's streets, creating community gathering places on empty lots and revitalizing neighborhoods and under-used parks.
Freilla, 33, grew up in the South Bronx and founded Green Worker Cooperatives in 2003 to revitalize the area, which was known for its urban blight. His organization works to turn the estimated ten thousand tons of construction waste that ends up in transfer stations in the Bronx each year into "green collar" jobs for local residents. It also operates a retail warehouse for salvaged building materials — a $900,000 project to which Freilla is donating his $100,000 Jacobs prize money.
Almost fifty years ago, a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled Jane Jacobs to research and write The Death and Life of Great American Cities, now considered a classic. "Jane Jacobs brought fresh thinking to the relationship between the needs of living communities and the urban environment," said Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin. "In addition to being known for her writing, she is remembered as a bold and dedicated activist who took her principles to the streets. We're proud to honor Barry Benepe and Omar Freilla, two New Yorkers who share Jane's inventiveness and dynamism."