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The battle in how the urban form of New York City in particular was shaped in the mid-twentieth century is presented, the two leading figures on the opposing sides of the battle being Robert Moses, who held many senior positions related to development of urban infrastructure, and Manhattan resident and journalist Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". In this battle, Moses disregarded Jacobs as a "mere housewife" and a nuisance of one at that. As was the prevailing trend of the time, Moses was in the camp of demolishing what he saw as not working to build homogeneous neighborhoods in style and function - most buildings several stories high or taller in the need to accommodate a growing population - that were largely supported by urban freeways or expressways to move people from the burgeoning affluent suburbs to jobs in the urban center. Many of the urban housing developments were social housing for those who could not afford to live in the suburbs, and ...Written by
"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!
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