Documentary Review: ‘Citizen Jane: Battle For The City’ A Poignant And Important Film For Us All

Review by Mark Merrell

The city has a pulse. It has a vibrance, and a collective personality formed by all of its inhabitants. But who, or what decides it’s architecture, the surroundings that we all live in directly influencing our lives? If we don’t care for the choice that is made on our behalf, do we really have a voice to make a difference?

These are just a few of the many issues and compelling stories in the documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. The film’s patriarch is the late author, journalist, and activist, Jane Jacobs. She penned a thought provoking book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961. Jacobs book was revolutionary, as she noticed the every day things that we all tend ignore; the life’s fabric that weaves us together by things and elements as seemingly mundane as sidewalks. She looks at them as social gathering places, important for many things, including lessening crime. Her inspiration was born out of the frustration watching blighted neighborhoods knocked down and cleared out, only to be replaced by the projects; high rise, inexpensive buildings, whose existence may have been born from the standpoint of helping humanity, but it’s result was not only the loss of social interaction, but increasing crime a feeling of becoming institutionalized.

The movie starts with a warning, reminding us of the population explosion that’s taking place, and showing scenes of overcrowding. Through the use of many very insightful interviews, stock footage, and the great work of cinematographers Chris Dapkins, Nick Higgins, and Paul Morris, director Matt Tyrnauer takes us on a very well paced and compelling ride, beginning prior to the start of the Second World War, when cities were a booming metropolis of culture, and a melting pot of ethnicity.

After the War, however, with the population growth, and aging architecture, some areas were riddled with disease and strife especially among the less affluent and impoverished. Instead of looking at the positive elements of the city, including the bustling sidewalks filled with street vendors, kids playing, highlighted by mom and pop shops along its seemingly endless path, planners seemed to ignore these intrinsic facets. City planners forgot how with each mile, it’s pedestrian traveler is sent into another world of ethnic lifestyles, with new sights, sounds and smells, including the aroma of the the neighborhoods particular food wafting through the air.

Instead of embracing this, city building planners and architects, including Robert Moses moved to completely eradicate these areas and replace them with the aforementioned high rise projects. The film follows the reaction of those effected, especially Jane Jacobs, and how she strived to make a positive difference in this era of change and modernization.

This film’s pace was fast and even. It’s a very informative, wonderful, and fascinating look at the world among us, and is truly inspiring regardless if you reside in a large city or a rural area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.