Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Review by Sophie Wyatt

Directed by

Matt Tyrnauer

Starring

Alexander Garvin Mindy Fullilove Thomas Campanella

Anticipation.

A real life hero and villain story.

Enjoyment.

It’s a one-sided rivalry – you can’t help but root for the plucky, progressive Jacobs.

In Retrospect.

Jacobs’ unrelenting thirst for change stays with you.

This tale of rival New York town planners makes for an educational look at how cities are built.

New York City is known as the place where dreams come true. But imagine if, instead of the romantic leafy neighbourhoods we see in movies, visitors were greeted with an abundance of brutalist concrete façades. Director and journalist Matt Tyrnauer’s Citizen Jane: Battle for the City recounts a time of rebellion and defiance in the domain of US town planning following the World War Two. It places particular focus on two of the biggest rivals when it came to the task of resurrecting of New York City.

In the blue corner we have Robert Moses, one of the most influential and controversial names involved with the restructuring of the city. He was an unfeeling power broker intent on gutting poorer areas and replacing them with ugly, impersonal housing estates. And in the red corner is Jane Jacobs, who was determined to lead a fight against what was described as the ‘dehumanisation’ of the city.

It’s pretty clear who the filmmakers are rooting for from the off. As the story develops, it’s traces Jacobs’ arguments for regeneration, which stem back to her feeling that neighbourhoods throughout the city were, and still are, constantly evolving. However, Moses believed that urban renewal was the only way to ‘cut out the cancer’ of visible poverty that blighted areas of the city.

Throughout the film we see the pair lock rhetorical horns and militantly stand up for what they believed would benefit the city. Moses displays a cocky demeanour, especially when he sneers while defending an extension of Fifth Avenue through New York’s beloved Washington Square Park. It speaks of the idea that some people use the excuse of public benefit as a way to hide their own, more selfish perspective.

The timing of the film’s initial release last summer seemed to conveniently coincide with the US.election, prompting a lot of comparisons between the films two competitors and the presidential candidates. Trump’s eventual ascendance only enforces the idea of Moses’ sly and villainous character.

Moses’ architectural efforts are still employed in areas today, and towards the end of the film we see the city council’s decision to decline his expressway proposal and his subsequent resignation. It’s made clear that Jacobs prevailed in her heroic attempts to let the city and its suburbs survive. The uplifting words quoted from Jacobs at the end of the film perfectly encapsulate its inspirational message.

Published 5 May 2017

Anticipation.

A real life hero and villain story.

Enjoyment.

It’s a one-sided rivalry – you can’t help but root for the plucky, progressive Jacobs.

In Retrospect.

Jacobs’ unrelenting thirst for change stays with you.

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