Directed by Matt Tyrnauer
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” – Jane Jacobs
“There must be people who are discommoded, inconvenienced, or call it what you will, on the old theory that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” – Post-War New York urban renewal czar Robert Moses
Before she became one of Canada’s greatest public intellectuals, a defender of Toronto’s diverse urban fabric, and patron saint of wrecking-ball resistance, Jane Jacobs was already a city savior.
Jacobs, the journalist, activist, and author of the paradigm-changing The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, defined her life’s mission in the most storied city of our time: New York.
There she honed her ground-breaking theories, and a new understanding of how a healthy city functions, covering everything from cryptic designs of manhole covers, the inner workings of different types of city markets, to public housing and urban renewal plans. She found herself in a time and place where the people-centred cities of the early 20th Century were in large part under relentless attack in the name of what was at the time thought to be progress.
Directed and produced by Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor), and produced by Robert Hammond, Co-Founder and Executive Director of New York City’s Friends of the High Line, Citizen Jane: Battle For The City is the story of how Jane Jacobs spent the ‘50s and ‘60s battling for the integrity of New York City, and how she formed the philosophy of livability and devised tactics of empowerment that have been embraced all over North America and the world. This past May 5, 2016, marked the centenary of Jane Jacobs.
Citizen Jane: Battle For The City begins its tale with the backstory of post-WWII architectural and urban design. It’s the story of the mass embrace of modernistic, frequently brutalist design schemes, and what was at the time universally known as urban renewal—a fixation on remaking the cities and wiping the slate clean, that, in fact, involved the obliteration of vital neighbourhoods, often arbitrarily labeled “slums” in favour of high-rise “projects” and an emphasis on expressways and the car-centred city.
Urban renewal tended to gut the human-scaled city, dispensing with the street and sidewalk, and people-centred environments—the kind of urbanism that serves the desires and needs of citizens—in favour of top-down institutional projects that, in the end, killed cities.
It was a movement that clashed against newly-formed progressive ideals, including ecology, race-consciousness (author James Baldwin declares urban renewal to be, “Negro removal”) and feminism (the likes of Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag and Eleanor Roosevelt) became Jacobs’ allies, while Moses thundered, “Nobody’s against this except a bunch of mothers!”—in the face of their opposition.
The activism inspired and led by Jacobs literally hit the road, as she led the fight against expressways in Lower Manhattan, the Bronx and an extension of Fifth Avenue that would have all but wiped out Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park. The movement she fostered spread across the U.S. and some parts of the world. Today her radical ideas for human-scaled urbanism are considered merely common sense.
Citizen Jane: Battle For The City is also the story of a fight that carries on—particularly in the developing world, where 1.5 million people are urbanized yearly, and countries like China, whose cookie-cutter “instant cities” seem directly modeled on the ‘50s North American projects.
“The message of the film is that this was not just Jane Jacobs’ fight. It’s yours,” Matt Tyrnauer says. “This is somewhat forgotten history, which we all need to know in order to look at our own cities and have a better understanding of them. Every city, every neighbourhood is different, but what happens can be up to you. The is a movie about how Jacobs’ ideas are as important today, if not more, than ever. Set in the context of the world today, it’s as much a warning as it is a celebration.”
“We realized that no one had done a film about Jane Jacobs,” says Producer Robert Hammond, Co-founder of Friends of the High Line. “She came up with her own common sense solution on how cities worked. But it’s not just Jane’s solutions for New York, it’s about people all over the world coming up with their own solutions, looking around their own cities, figuring out how we’re going to solve the issues, from the bottom up.”
The film is a Robert Hammond and Matt Tyrnauer production with ALTIMETER FILMS.
Produced and Directed by Matt Tyrnauer
Produced by Robert Hammond
Produced by Corey Reeser
Executive Produced by Pierre Legrange, Bernard Legrange and Juliet Page