New Yorkers love to grumble about how the city is getting ever more homogenized and polluted, but activists Barry Benepe and Omar Freilla are busy working to make it a more livable and ecofriendly place. On June 25, the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will honor eachwith aninaugural Jane Jacobs Medal accompanied by a $100,000 award: Freilla under the category of New Ideas and Activism,andBenepefor Lifetime Leadership.
The winners adhere to the spirit if not the letter of Jacobs’ creed. “We were happy to see that environmental justice was something that we could bring forward in this medal; it’s a different idea than the literal contributions that Jane Jacobs made but very much in the same tradition,” said jury member Marilyn Taylor, urban design and planning partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
Freilla is a recycling advocate trained in environmental science. Fed up with how impoverished neighborhoods such as his native South Bronx are used as dumping grounds, he became a proponent of a zerowaste city. In 2003 he founded Green Worker Cooperatives, an organization that is planning a retail warehouse for materials recovered from construction and demolition jobs.
Though trained as an architect, in 1975 Benepe cofounded Greenmarket, a New York farmer’s market program that has revitalized city neighborhoods and underused parks. He is also a cyclist who helped found Transportation Alternatives, which works to free the city from car dependence.
Benepe and Freilla will receive their medals at a ceremony on September 24, coinciding with the opening of a Municipal Art Society exhibition on Jane Jacobs. The Jacobs exhibition follows on the heels of a trio of exhibitions devoted to Robert Moses. It seems the old foes’ rivalry will continue even beyond the grave.