In 1960 Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was an activist who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York to stop 'master builder' Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanisation moves to the very front of the global agenda.
Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
This 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. Around the world today, among rising powers such as China and India, new mega-cities are being built top down, with little or no input from those who inhabit them, or from the communities who have been displaced to make way for their construction. By bringing back to life the struggles and battles over urban planning in the 20th century United States, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City shows that anti-democratic approaches to city planning and building are fundamentally unsustainable; a grassroots, bottom up approach is imperative to the social, economic, and ecological success of tomorrow’s global cities.
The film highlights Jane Jacobs’ magisterial 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning. This is exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s ‘Master Builder’, Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses 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—a high prince of government and urban theory fully ensconced in New York’s halls of power and privilege. Yet both reveal themselves to be master tacticians who, in the middle of the 20th century, became locked in an epic struggle over the fate of the city.