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  • It's a clich√© to write that everyone involved in or studying urban development and planning should see this documentary, because of course they should. And of course they should read Ms. Jacobs' books. But as I witness, or at least fear, the gradual decay of the city I live in - which happens to be the city Ms. Jacobs lived in for the last 20 or so years of her life - I see that the wisdom of this saviour of cities does not seem to be a core part of Toronto's current urban- planning scheme. Maybe that's because, as Ms. Jacobs pointed out, cities develop organically as they are an independent life force. So you can't apply one set of rules for every city as every city is a unique entity. It was obvious to me though after watching Citizen Jane: Battle for the City that there are some enlightened guidelines that everyone responsible for urban development should be aware of. But in the lofty battle of what's good for the city vs. what's bad for the city, Ms. Jacobs' vision of what's good for cities - while noble - was not all-encompassing, not to be used as a blueprint for development, but rather as a compliment to a greater blueprint.

    One glaring omission from this documentary was the mentioning of public transportation and how good public transportation plays a key role in making and keeping neighbourhoods and cities vibrant. Ms. Jacobs focused on two antithetical ways of getting around - walking and driving. Highways being thrust into the hearts of cities tend to destroy neighborhoods and result in horrible urban decay, but people need to get around, and walking is not an option for most people when they're traveling more than a kilometre or two on a regular basis. Ms. Jacobs downplayed traffic gridlock as if it were a secondary problem. Happy cities are all about people living in vibrant, safe neighbourhoods, she believed. But what about the essential need of the urban masses to travel outside the neighbourhood in a reasonable amount of time? Ms. Jacobs' nemesis in the documentary - the developer Robert Moses, presented as the single greatest destroyer of the soul of the American city during the post-WW2 Era in the US - at least pointed out in the doc that traffic gridlock is a very bad thing, and needed to be dealt with. Though his solution - highways through the city - was a terrible one, what was the alternative? Ms. Jacobs was so focused on quality community living that she didn't take into account the profound, widespread need for people to be able to move from one community to the next. But at least New York City has an excellent public transportation system. As I see condo after condo going up in my city, the traffic getting worse and worse, and not nearly enough being done to improve public transportation, I wonder what Jane Jacobs would have to say about this sort of urban decay going on. A lifetime of fighting the good fight for urban health and ten books later, and wouldn't you know it, she didn't take everything into account in her grand equation. Alex Marshall writing about Ms. Jacobs: "Jacobs makes virtually no mention of...the New York City subway system in her masterpiece and most influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This omission points to something Jacobs didn't get, which was infrastructure: the big systems that make a city work. Jacobs not only didn't talk much about the New York subway system, she didn't talk much about the water system, an engineering marvel whose pipes snake hundreds of miles into the Catskill mountains, bringing fresh, clean liquid to millions of people. She doesn't talk about the power grid. It's almost as if she assumes the dense urban neighborhoods she loved just materialized organically on the banks of the Hudson, not the product of massive infrastructure systems usually financed or directed by big government."

    So is Jane Jacobs really the Urban Studies visionary hero that she's been canonised as? Maybe or maybe not, but she still did a lot of good, and won huge battles against evil. This is well portrayed in Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.
  • "Citizen Jane - Battle for the City" (2017 release; 92 min.) is a documentary about Jane Jacobs, and opens with a quote from her 1961 classic book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". In the movie's introduction, we are reminded that urbanization is increasing at record pace (along with stunning photography of some of the world's largest cities). We then go back in time and are introduced to Robert Moses, a New York politician and head of the NY Committee of Slums Clearance (among many other Committees). It is on Moses' behest that New York is massively redoing certain parts of the city, not just to 'clear the sums' but also to make way (literally) for the American car. Jane Jacobs, a journalist by trade, observes it all, and starts developing a radically different approach. Then one Moses threatens to 'redo' the West Village/Greenwich Village area, where Jacobs lives... To tell you more of the story would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

    Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from director-producer Matt Tyrnauer. Here he tackles the subject matter of urban design, something I am not an expert in but very much interested in (having lived in large cities most of my life). While the battle between Moses and Jacobs rages, we see fascinating archive footage of what certain sections of New York looked like, before they were rebuilt/destroyed (take your pick). Sizeable attention is given to the rise (and eventual demise) of massive and cookie-cutter "public housing" complexes from the 50s and 60s. Late in the documentary, someone observes :China today is Moses on steroids". If you have visited China, it's impossible to miss these complexes, based on what we did here in the US half a century ago (and knowing that they eventually failed). Tyrnauer has tons of interviews spliced throughout the movie. Last but certainly not least, there is a delightful (and Philip Glass-reminding) original score, composed by Jane Antonia Cornish.

    "Citizen Jane - Battle for the City" opened this past weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (but of course it was a weeknight). I hope good word-of-mouth will carry this documentary forward, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. If you love a good documentary and/or are interested in urban design, you cannot go wrong with this. "Citizen Jane - Battle for the City" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
  • Writer/Journalist/Urban Activist: Jane Jacobs is the main subject of this documentary as it focuses on her battles against rapid redevelopment headed by urban planner Robert Moses in her home city of New York during the 1950s and 1960s.

    This film ably conveys Jacobs' intelligence in various ways: her unusual yet fascinating observations on how cities truly work (there is order within the 'chaos'); and her abilities to organize activist responses to proposals that negate city living. Her views and philosophies are expressed in various ways. They include audio and televised footage as well as the narration (by Marisa Tomei) from Jacobs' book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961).

    The viewer could end up feeling a mixture of optimism as well as pessimism from the history exposed in this film. On the one hand, Jacobs' victories (with much help) give hope. But there is despair after viewing the chronicling of "slum" neighbourhoods with vibrant communities being destroyed and replaced with housing projects that caused more problems than they solved. One feels grief not only for the loss of vibrant communities but also for the historical buildings that were destroyed - and replaced with bland ones.

    Jacobs moved to Toronto (where I've lived for over twenty years) in 1968 and was involved in a successful campaign to stop an expressway being built in the downtown area in the early 1970s. One can only wonder (and shudder) what she would think of the current state of this city since her passing in 2006 at the age of eighty-nine.

    She believed in progress as long as it mixed the old with the new and kept street life active. Downtown Toronto is losing many small shops, restaurants, and bars as they are being torn down for more and more massive glass condos. (It's strange to think that such blandness will be considered 'historical architecture' in the future.) During this process, sidewalks adjacent to the future condo sites have been reduced. So much for encouraging the street life so well lauded in this documentary. Also, in regard to condo buildings that have shops at ground level, they seem to have very little activity within them. (A similar point is made in "Citizen Jane" about parks near housing projects that were frequently empty.)

    Director Matt Tyrnauer has used the right mix of interviews, old footage, and music to make a fine film even for those of us who have minimal knowledge of urban issues. The footage of street life goes back to earlier decades - even as far back as the 1930s. The music by Jane Antonia Cornish has an edge that is usually used in thrillers. Perhaps, this is to imply that the monstrous mindset of the 50s and 60s has an equally evil grandchild (condo-ization aka vulgarization) in our current times that is taking over our lives today.....and we're all in that scary movie!

    In any case, this movie is encouraging me to read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". From the quotes in this movie, the book still sounds relevant today - more than half a century since it was published.
  • jdnarch11 August 2017
    This is less a film more a hagiography. It makes accusations which may indeed have some merit but does nothing to try to challenge them.

    For example racial removal is cited as a reason for slum clearance but there is no counter to express the fact many project are what kept black communities from being erased by gentrification.

    Again Pruitt Igoe is cited that it was designed by a team that was made of of far more minority ethic architects than was usual at the time countering the remote whiteman image the documentary likes to play too. It ignores as is that racial segregation was forced upon the the plan and the rather important fact that black tenants where forced to move into the block when it was unfinished with some apartments lacking even plumbing.However the biggest flaw is looking at what happened to the neighborhood post demolition and what happened to the nearby neighborhoods that where not redeveloped and why the lives of the citizens have got so much worst since the development was demolished.

    Its is on the whole a very middle class view of city life, the projects are dismissed as bad most one suspects because the are not the demise of the middle class but doesn't look to see if anyone has anything nice to say about the project that cannot be all bad is the culture they have spawned from Hip-Hop to wave after wave of fantastic black film directors who produce the kind of films Hollywood can only dream of. While obviously Hip-Hop and a few good films don't mean the project are therefore a utopian dream they do at least prove that nor are they the social void Jacobs would have you believe.

    The biggest flaw however is what it fails to do is look for an example where knowingly or not, Jane Jacobs advice has in essences been how that city has developed. Their are of course plenty of examples that have been far closer to the Jane Jacobs model such as Paris which has a city centre that is a upper middle class ghetto or indeed London where some districts have lost all their life not through redevelopment by preservation and flows of capital and property investment for people who leave the places mostly vacant leaving immaculate ghost towns. One of the most tragic developments in our modern times has been the slow death of the city of Venice which has declined from one of the worlds great bustling hubs to an open air museum. Maybe if Robert Moses had been hired to build a highway down the gran canal and concrete tower blocks jutting out the lagoon the place would have a bit more life and a few less tourists today.

    It also fails to look at the cities in China it moans about and one wonders if anyone involved has ever been. Are they really soulless? In my experience the city of Hong Kong mile after mile of high-rises and shopping malls is one of the most trilling places on earth and yet the very similar building typography in Singapore provoked in me only boredom. its true as stated it people that make cities not buildings yet, the most striking think about both this film and indeed the Death and Life of the Great American City is while they talk about how much buildings should be people focused, that's all they do. Its a mantra that isn't really explored in anymore depth than the humanism of Le Corbusier and his beautifully drawn stick men.

    All in all this film is just one generation of urban thinkers giving itself a nice pat on the back at the expense of the previous.
  • Firstly if Jane had won the debate we would still have major slums in the core of NYC. And it is precisely the progressives in NY that have presided over the gentrification, not the other way around as implied by "Citizen Jane."
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I do not think this film did justice to the rich subject matter the filmmakers tackled. It was very vague and repetitive, with the same shots of buildings being torn down over and over again, and the same lines being repeated by the narrator several times over. Similarly vague lines are quoted from Jacobs' book. Unfortunately the parts they chose that were specific, such as the need to have 'eyes on the street' at all times of day, are not as relevant in the modern day, as there are so many forms of entertainment that people are not likely to sit on their porch or at their window looking out onto the street, even if it is active. They are more likely lying in bed writing a review on IMDb or watching Netflix. However, most of the exposition of Jacobs' ideas don't even rise to that level of specificity. As a result, the viewer barely knows more about Jane Jacobs' criticisms walking out of the movie than going in. The source of Robert Moses' power wasn't explained. Part of the film contains a smug attack on Le Corbusier only to correct itself latter when they said his ideas were misrepresented. They try to jawbone some feminism at moments but never really pursue the idea.

    The film gives the impression Jacobs won (in America, at least), but ignores that high rise apartments and condos are as popular as ever. The lively "street" that Jacobs defended is not present in these new developments. Communities have migrated online. So did Le Corb win in the end after all?

    Given the high reviews this received, I expected better. It did show Jacobs' beginnings as a journalist. And there were a few interesting clips of Moses justifying himself. The note he wrote after reading Death and Life was interesting. It shows he did in fact read the book. However, both her and Moses deserve a better documentary.
  • Citizen Jane documents the battle between Urban Renewal and Urban Preservation, focusing specifically on post-WWII era New York City. It's painted as a classic David v Goliath story in which reporter/activist Jane Jacobs pits herself against the well-connected developer Robert Moses. It isn't a particularly suspenseful documentary - if you know anything about the current layout of Manhattan, you know the outcome - but it's still a highly educational piece that highlights many of the ongoing debates in the world of urban planning.

    Those living in small towns or rural areas may not get too much out of this doc, but anyone living in a major city will easily relate to its themes. If I have one complaint, it's that the filmmakers worked a little too hard to paint Moses as a villain. They touch a bit on his early idealism, but then lean into the portrayal of him as a greedy bully. Perhaps he was simply blind to the damage he was doing in his quest to re-build the slums and tenements? I suppose it's a compliment to say that this documentary left me wanting to know more.
  • Jane Jacobs and the successful battle to oppose Robert Moses' planned lower Manhattan expressway in the 1960s is the focus of this doc, but the film also raises general questions about the overreach of city planners who are too quick to tear buildings down and not very wise about the new buildings and highways that go in their place.

    It's a huge topic, so it was wise to focus here on Manhattan, where enough forms of political greed and poor planning took place to document the folly that went into projects that were completed, like the Cross-Bronx Expressway, along with some that weren't, like the prospect of bringing urban renewal to the West Village.

    Lots of footage Moses, Jacobs, and the wrecking ball and we'll put together from beginning to end.
  • 10/26/17. Being a native New Yorker I enjoyed the nostalgic footage of the '60s and '70s. I had no idea of how urban development and urban renewal was going to destroy the fabric of what made up New York. So, it was good to hear about people such as Jacobs. What most people probably never knew was that they were going to tear down Grand Central Station. YES, the iconic Grand Central Station had not Jackie O stepped in and saved it. So, NYC owed its heart not to the builders of skyscrapers but those who felt that NY was more than just lifeless concrete and glass structures.