Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

One of the great things about documentaries is that they present worlds and places you never imagined and extraordinary people doing the unimaginable. Citizen Jane: Battle for the city is about urban journalist and activist Jane Jacobs. Her 1960 book The death and life of great American cities is considered one of the most influential essay about urban planning. Additionally, Jacobs was an earlier example of what you would today call “an activist”. During the 1950s and 1960s, Jacobs’ neighbourhood, Greenwich village, New York, and others were constantly threatened by destruction by urban developers. One of those was Robert Moses, a greedy and power-hungry man who had all the politicians in his pockets. His goal to practise “slum clearance” -expropriate whole neighbourhoods to build mega highways and move the population (mostly black) to public housing projects was thwarted by Jane Jacobs and other activists. When Moses planned to build a road through Washington Square Park, the reaction was immediate and the project was successfully aborted. Manhattan and Greenwich village would have been destroyed and replaced by the Lower Manhattan Expressway or the Mid-Manhattan Expressway were it not for people like Jane Jacobs. She was arrested in 1968. That same year she moved to Toronto, caused by her opposition to the Vietnam war, where she quickly got involved and arrested again. Almost sixty years after it was written, The death and life of great American cities is still pertinent today. In her writing, read in the film by Marisa Tomei, Jane effectively exults her dedication and love of the city.

Quote… “Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en massa, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.”

Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities, 1961

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

Directed by:
Matt Tyrnauer

With Marisa Tomei reading Jane Jacobs

93 min.

Rated General

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