Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is a story about our global urban future, in which nearly three-fourths of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of this century. It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities have dramatically clashed with grassroots, “bottom up” approaches. The film brings us back mid-century, on the eve of the battles for the heart and soul of American cities, about to be routed by cataclysmically destructive Urban Renewal and highway projects. The film details the revolutionary thinking of Jane Jacobs, and the origins of her magisterial 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she singlehandedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses figure centrally in our story as archetypes of the “bottom up” and the “top down” vision for cities. They also figure as two larger-than-life personalities: Jacobs—a journalist with provincial origins, no formal training in city planning, and scarce institutional authority—seems at first glance to share little in common with Robert Moses, the upper class, high prince of government and urban theory fully ensconced in New York’s halls of power and privilege. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City gives audiences a front row seat to this battle, and shows how two opposing visions of urban greatness continue to ripple across the world stage. In perilous times for the city and for civil rights, Citizen Jane offers a playbook, courtesy of Jane Jacobs, for organizing communities and speaking the truth to entrenched and seemingly insurmountable powers. Director Matt Tyrnauer joins us to talk about a citizen activist whose vision and principals resonate to this day.
“In a spritely edited feature, Tyrnauer pushes his audience to make the connection between the turbulent growth spurts of the 1950s and 1960s with today’s political aspirations.” – Flias Savada
“Jacobs argued that what looks to officialdom like disorder is actually what makes a crowded human landscape function – it’s just a more complex order. This compelling documentary lets you see the beauty she found in that complexity.” – Bob Mondello, NPR
“It’s a story that needs periodic retelling, and Mr. Tyrnauer has heightened the human drama by focusing on Jacobs, an improbable David to Moses’s Goliath.” – Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
“A fascinating documentary captures the showdown, half a century ago, between the activist Jane Jacobs and the Trumpian urban planner Robert Moses: a fight for the future of New York.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety