Citizen Jane: Battle for the City DVD Review

  • Actors: Jane Jacobs, Marisa Tomei
  • Director: Matt Tyrnauer
  • Format: Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: MPI Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 12, 2017
  • Run Time: 93 minutes

        Citizen Jane attempts to be a history lesson, a biography of Jane Jacobs, and adaptation of her essential book on city design, while still finding time to point out the relevance of her beliefs in times of modern urban renewal. This may feel like a lot for a documentary to cover in just over 90-minutes, and for fans of the book or those interested in the topic of city planning, this may be the case. For the casual viewer, however, even this breadth of material and short running time is not enough to save the film from occasionally feeling redundant in its opinion that cities should be less organized and contained.

        Building off of the opinions from Jacobs’ book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” while simultaneously serving up historical background of its creation and success, Citizen Jane sets out to argue that cities need the chaotic sprawl that makes up communities. More importantly, it argues against the type of city planning that looks for the most efficient way of housing large groups of people, typically by creating communities that are simply high-rise apartment buildings. If Jacobs was something of a defender of the small communities found in the chaos of cities, she was primarily fighting against politician Robert Moses, the head of the New York Committees of Slums Clearance and an advocate for the urbanization of cities.

        The film is filled with archival footage tracing the battle of ideas between Moses and Jacobs, while also showing the ways in which urbanization has failed major cities. But even with the experiment proved a failure by the rise and crime and creation of “projects” where these apartment buildings stand, the film also warns viewers that the dangers are still present in today’s city planning. As most documentaries often rely on cautionary tales and the anxieties of viewers, Citizen Jane is no exception. By the end of the film it is China that is used as an example, after having adopted Moses’ model for city building. Whether or not this will also eventually fail, or whether American cities will continue to be plagued with this ideology, is left open-ended. Those who are interested in the subject will likely see this documentary as little more than an introduction to the complicated topic.

Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance:  6/10
Special Features: 6.5/10

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