Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
Have you ever looked up at large high-rise buildings and wondered which architect or city planner thought they’d be a good idea? Citizen Jane: Battle for the City explores the rise in American modernist city planning and glorifies one of the activists and writers against it, Jane Jacobs. Essentially, the film highlights the conflict between her and “master builder” Robert Moses, and how we can use the journalist’s ideas to build interactive cities for future generations.
A select group of architects, authors and friends of Jacobs talk to the camera, discussing her life and the importance of her work intercut with stills and real footage. Starting her career as a receptionist at a candy company, she eventually became a journalist and wrote about what interested her the most: the city, and how people use it. Systematically, she wrote about districts in New York for Vogue magazine. After stopping Moses’s plans for an expressway to cut through Washington Square Park, she published The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs thought about designing the city from street level, utilising the power of people being on the streets. Moses looked at cities from above; he built ghettos and large expressways, and aimed to remove people, poor people, from their streets and into tower blocks, and provide the auto-industry with highly connected expressways.
While this documentary is thought-provoking, it doesn’t offer much other than an introduction to the subject’s ideas and a history lesson about her activism against Robert Moses, and modernist architecture. In the beginning, it states that city planners across the world need to use Jacobs’s suggestions when designing cities for the future. Other than the idea that streets are an important part of a city, there isn’t any other exploration of her work and, consequently, by the end of the feature, no proposals are given for solving the impending overpopulation in built up areas. There is footage of crowded streets in India, of high-rise jungles in China, but they serve no real purpose, other than highlighting the journalist’s ideas and pointing at existing problems. This isn’t to take away from Jacobs’s thoughts and her story: she was an amazing person fighting for the heart of New York City and its people, and she was an excellent theorist. Her perspective of city planning truly is amazing. But her deification in this documentary is only held up by the warm words of its cast and its history lesson. Further exploration of her ideas was needed.
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is released in selected cinemas on 5th May 2017.
Watch the trailer for Citizen Jane: Battle for the City here: