Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is the riveting new documentary of fabled urban activist Jane Jacobs, and her efforts to save New York from the threat of encroaching urbanisation.
It is a timely reminder of what can happen when motivated citizens stand up for neighbourhood and community.
Director Matt Tyranuer (Valentino: The Last Emperor,) focuses on the war waged between Jacobs, a tireless preserver of urban communities, and Robert Moses, a callous, post-war kingpin of urban development.
Moses’ primary target were tenement buildings - the “cancerous” slums of the city – which he obliterated, repopulating the landscape of New York City with sterile housing projects that would foster crime, poverty and segregation, the “sacking of cities,” as Jacobs says.
We also see his plans for the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a giant highway that would cut across the entire island, razing much of Greenwich Village and modern day SoHo to the ground.
What ensues is a scrappy, David and Goliath showdown that sees Jacobs galvanizing communities, leading protests and leveraging powerful female political influence to her cause.
It is invigorating and terrifying in equal measure to realise that it was Jacobs who made the difference between the New York we know today, and the dystopian alternative-reality of a city of mega concrete expressways and barren shantytowns.
The film is not just for those interested in urban planning, or even those with a general interest in New York City, but rather for anyone who can appreciate an enthralling cautionary tale of the social, environmental and cultural consequences of modern planning.
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is now showing in cinemas and on demand. Book here: https://dogwoof.com/citizenjane#screenings
Image courtesy of: Library of Congress