Rockefeller Foundation Honors Two New Yorker's Urban Activism with 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal

Jun 24, 2009, 09:45 ET from The Rockefeller Foundation

NEW YORK, June 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today the Rockefeller Foundation announced the recipients of the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal -- Damaris Reyes, Executive Director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Richard Kahan, Founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly. The Medal is awarded to two individuals each year 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.

Damaris Reyes, whose organization GOLES has served the Lower East Side for over 30 years on issues such as tenants' rights, economic justice and community revitalization, will receive the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. Richard Kahan, a former planner and builder whose non-profit Urban Assembly created and now manages 22 secondary public schools located, by design, in many of the lowest income neighborhoods in NYC, will receive the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership. Along with the Medal, Damaris Reyes and Richard Kahan will each receive $100,000.

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 Jane Jacobs Medal recognizes two New Yorkers for extraordinary work that has changed the way we think about development, neighborhoods and planning within cities," said Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. "Damaris Reyes's and Richard Kahan's devotion to their communities and to the larger community that is New York City defines the very legacy of civic activism that Jane Jacobs fostered."

Raised in New York City's Lower East Side and a third generation public housing resident, Damaris Reyes continues to live and raise her children in the same public housing development where she was born and raised. For over a decade, Damaris has been committed to the principles of Jane Jacobs, working to organize public housing residents and make them part of the Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) -- a neighborhood housing and preservation organization that has served the Lower East Side since 1977 in the areas of tenants' rights, eviction prevention, economic justice and community revitalization.

Damaris began her work with GOLES as a community grassroots organizer, leading public housing residents to become a part of the organization that, until Damaris, had almost exclusively worked with private building tenants. As a direct result of Damaris's effort, in 2000, GOLES brought PHROLES (Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side) into its fold in order to advocate on behalf of public housing residents in the neighborhood.

In 2005, Damaris Reyes became Executive Director of GOLES. Through an approach that Damaris describes as holistic, Damaris and GOLES have been pivotal in strengthening the community and preserving the neighborhood's character. Some examples include, supporting the New York City Council's passage of strong tenant protection legislation, surveying and supporting small business owners in order to remain economically viable, fighting for a community voice in the development of the East River waterfront, and working with NYCHA and skilled-trades unions to provide job opportunities for public housing residents.

Most importantly, and in the spirit of Jane Jacobs, Damaris is working every day to find ways for the Lower East Side to remain a unified community, excluding no one, while fighting the demographic changes that come along with a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. As Jane Jacobs fundamentally believed, for cities to survive, there must be people, like Damaris, who understand the complex and intricate factors that can make neighborhoods home for a diverse range of people.

For more than 35 years, Richard Kahan has worked tirelessly to make New York City a place in which partnerships between the public and private sectors can confront and solve serious urban problems. In his early career as a builder and planner, Richard already subscribed to the philosophies of Jane Jacobs as he completely reconceived large-scale development at Battery Park City to incorporate the highest architectural standards and place a priority on the public experience.

After years in the public and private sectors as president of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, president of the Convention Center Development Corporation, and as chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, Richard founded the Urban Assembly in 1990 to address urban poverty issues in the U.S. and abroad. By 2002, Richard changed the Urban Assembly to focus exclusively on education and began creating 22 small, specialized schools that emphasize students' eventual completion of college. More than 70 percent of 9th graders who attend a UA high school enter not meeting standards on city and state exams in English and math. Nonetheless, a full 78 percent of UA students graduate from high school (significantly higher than the citywide percentage), and 90 percent of UA graduates are admitted to a college.

In addition to his work at Urban Assembly, Richard helped found Take the Field in 2000, a non profit organization that rebuilt 43 public-school outdoor athletic facilities in just four years at a cost of $136 million that was raised from public and private sources by Take the Field. These outdoor fields have not only provided places for countless school children to run and play, but have also served the larger neighborhood by creating public spaces for communities to gather.

Some of Jane Jacobs most fundamental teachings in cities emphasized the importance of developing schools for children to learn in, places for communities to play in, as well as, successfully finding ways for government and private interests to work together. Richard Kahan has devoted his life to these principals to achieve a true urban quality of life in New York.

The selection of the Jane Jacobs Medalists and allocation of the prize money was determined by the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal Jury, chaired by Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Jury also includes Rockefeller Foundation trustee David Rockefeller, Jr.; Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts; and Paul Goldberger, Architecture Critic for The New Yorker. The 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal is administered by the Municipal Art Society (MAS).

Municipal Art Society

The MAS, founded in 1893, is a private, non-profit membership organization whose mission is to promote a more livable city. It advocates excellence in urban design and planning, contemporary architecture, historic preservation, and public art. Visit for information on tours and programs.

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation fosters innovative solutions to many of the world's most intractable challenges, affirming its mission, since 1913, to "promote the well-being" of humanity. Today, the Foundation works to ensure that more people can tap into globalization's benefits while strengthening resilience to its risks. Foundation initiatives include efforts to mobilize an agricultural revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, bolster economic security for American workers, inform more equitable, sustainable transportation policies in the United States, assure access to affordable and high-quality health systems in developing countries, and support strategies and services that help vulnerable communities cope with the impacts of climate change.

For more information about the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal, and Jane Jacobs' life, visit

SOURCE The Rockefeller Foundation