Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Director – Matt Tyrnauer


Another documentary so I started out with three. I guess I am still mourning the end of the Hot Docs festival. This film was about Jane Jacobs the recently deceased urban activist who killed several expressway plans in Manhattan and the Bronx and then moved to Toronto in time to help stop the Spadina expressway. The director is a lapsed architectural journalist who was once in love with the whole 60’s move toward building expressways and high rises particularly those developed by Le Corbusier. Jacobs was a Manhattan journalist mother and housewife who lacked formal education but who saw urban settings in a completely different way. She was horrified at the plans of NYC’s Robert Moses who led the process of knocking down old slum areas and replacing them with monstrous high rise buildings to house the poor and lower classes. While the slums were not okay in themselves they did function on a human scale and were living spaces people had turned to their own purposes. The new buildings killed that and took away the opportunity for people to share their lives and enterprises. She wrote her first book “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” to make her argument and it came out at a critical time. Moses the chief city planner for NYC was planning to build a freeway through Washington Square and Greenwich Village and right through Jacob’s neighborhood. Moses had gone far beyond knocking down slums and was now knocking down neighborhoods. Too much!! She raised the alarm and stopped him. The film follows these early days of her campaigns to the point where she ultimately caused Moses’s resignation. This film will teach you a great deal about city planning and how to look at our cities and the place of neighborhoods in preserving their life and vitality. It is bit disappointing if you are interested in learning about Jacobs and her Canadian contributions but it will give you a sense of how lucky Toronto was to inherit her and her family when we did. An excellent Q and A with the director and producer afterwards and David Crombie – our tiny perfect mayor – was present for the screening and given a big hand for his role in preserving our neighborhoods. As one looks at the condo development in Toronto recently the same questions Jacobs raised in the 60’s and 70’s might well be asked again.