This documentary on urban-planning centers on the wildly differing visions of writer and activist Jane Jacobs and New York City planning czar Robert Moses. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
A war broke out in the middle of the 20th century over what urban planning could and should accomplish, a struggle engagingly documented in “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.” And it is a kind of war movie, centering on the wildly differing visions of writer and activist Jane Jacobs and New York City planning czar Robert Moses.
Jacobs, the film’s heroine and winner of the battle, wrote one of the seminal books about city planning, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” published in 1961 and still read and taught. She had a street-level vision of cities, based on the everyday lives of the inhabitants, congregating on stoops and watching the busy scene below from their apartment windows.
Emblematic of then-modern city planning, Moses and his like had an austere vision based on ideas of Le Corbusier and others to replace aging and disorderly slums with high-rise projects grouped in bunches with few of the amenities of the old neighborhoods. This was called urban renewal, and its many errors are now widely recognized.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,’ a documentary directed by Matt Tyrnauer. 92 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday, May 11.
This film documents the beginnings of that recognition, in which Greenwich Village resident Jacobs played a notable role although she was but one of many in what became a large movement.
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The Jacobs versus Moses story has been recounted many times (even inspiring an opera last year, “A Marvelous Order”). It’s a complicated tale, and at 92 minutes, the film is a very brief summary. But it’s a story that needs telling, as director Matt Tyrnauer proves with footage showing China’s massive program of erecting high-rise residences that bear more than a passing resemblance to the old American projects.