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TIFF Review – Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

citizen jane

Journalist and activist Jane Jacobs’ approach towards urban development puts her into direct conflict with city planner Robert Moses and his vision of metropolitan New York.

Before moving to Toronto, Jane Jacobs had established herself as an urban activist in her adopted home of New York City.  The transformation took place while working as a journalist where she witnessed and wrote about how the urban renewal projects were destroying rather than enhancing neighbourhoods.  In 1961, Jacobs published the acclaimed book The Death and Life of Great American Cities which was openly critical of Robert Moses who had the power to knockdown neighbourhoods, and replace them with highways and high rise structures.  But the battle went beyond the printed word with Jacobs successfully rallying community protests, thereby, preventing Moses from having a free reign.

Two individuals who have a clear conflict between them allows for a straightforward and compelling narrative structure.  Jane Jacobs views the city of New York from the street level upwards while Moses has an overall perspective in regards to how the urban infrastructure should be constructed.   There is no doubt that filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer is a supporter of Jacobs as the criticism is reserved for Moses who does appear in archival interview clips defending his ‘urban renewal’ initiative.

The interviews, including one with the late Jane Jacobs, provide interesting insight into the urban ecosystem that if looked after properly can foster flourishing communities.   Matt Tyrnauer takes the time to put everything in the proper context and explains the origins of the opposing views.  A wealth of footage is utilized to illustrate the subject matter and is a cinematic treat to watch.


Check out all of our TIFF coverage.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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