Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
Matt Tyrnauer’s Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is the the kind of film that makes one feel smarter and more aware of one’s surroundings upon leaving the theater.
The documentary on writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs spins a spellbinding yarn of mid-20th-century citizens banding together to fight the “progressive” interests of people oblivious to how successful cities actually work.
Recreated through an impressive array of archival footage and photos, Jacobs’ journalism background and commitment to her neighborhood make her an ideal candidate to counteract the efforts of city planner Robert Moses, whom Tyrnauer excels at setting up as the film’s villain.
While Moses’ idealistic urban renewal seems beneficial in principle, once the consequences of his short-sighted projects become evident and his spoken and written words reflect a disregard for the people living in the targeted neighborhoods, he’s doomed. His documented dismissive responses to Jacobs’ seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, likewise do him no favors and make it even easier to root against him.
Though Citizen Jane’s central events occur in the 1950s and ‘60s, Tyrnauer and the intelligent present-day interviewees he assembles – ranging from architects to Jacobs’ biographer – convincingly argue for those decisions’ ripple effects remaining pertinent today.
Statements of China’s current urbanization trends being a steroidal version of Moses’ methods is particularly concerning, but also the type of detail with the power to inspire current and future city planners to be more conscientious.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but on par with a PG rating.
**What Next? and Dinner Party Fodder for Citizen Jane: bonus insight and follow-up film suggestions, available exclusively to patrons.**
(Photo: IFC Films)