As I write a book I describe as a tale of two villages, Camberwell and Great Barrington, I am glad to have yet a third village to use as another point of reference. And this one is actually called a village, though it’s even more urban than Camberwell, my London neighborhood. Over the past few years I’ve spent a good part of my time in what is now known as the West Village – really just part of the whole of Greenwich Village, New York City.
Not only is it helpful to have an American city for comparison, but I happen to have come to know a place that is particularly rich in stories relevant to A Smaller Circle and the search for community. And it is a neighborhood that has been written about a good deal, most importantly by the great proponent of city life, Jane Jacobs. Jacobs lived in the West Village, too, and wrote about it in her famous book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. A well-known photo of her was taken just round the corner, at the White Horse Tavern, and I frequently walk, in 2010, the streets she wrote about in the early 1960s. You can see the photo here:† Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York. Here’s a 2004 article about Jane Jacobs in The Villager and a lengthy interview by James Howard Kunstler. The changes in the area in the last couple of years, with the opening of the Standard Hotel and the Highline urban park, have been fascinating to watch. See the “More Jane Jacobs Less Marc Jacobs” sign that I first noticed in a window on Horatio Street.