Documentary focuses on Jane Jacobs and her fight against Robert Moses and his urban renewal plans

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Cities aren’t just buildings. They are the people who walk the streets and create the communities and frequent the shops and buildings that make them vibrant urban centers and not just real-life versions of architectural blueprints.

It seems obvious today, but it was a radical theory when architect, activist and author Jane Jacobs posited it in her 1961 book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs and her book are the subject of the invigorating documentary “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” which focuses on her efforts to preserve cities and the people who make them live and breathe in the face of massive development efforts by corporate bigwigs.

In this case, the bigwig is Robert Moses, the city planner who played an integral role in the shaping of New York City. Jacobs opposed his plans, which included building an expressway that would have passed through Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park, and director Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”) frames their clash as a classic David vs. Goliath story.

Through their headbutting, there’s a bigger, very timely story being told about corporations vs. people and the notion of urban progress. What does it mean to build a city, and what is a city if the people who make it up are being pushed out to make room for “growth?”

Tyrnauer uses a ton of archival footage to tell his story, and brings it in at a brisk 92 minutes. He makes his and Jacobs’ point early and often: Cities are living, breathing entities with beating hearts and souls, and those souls are worth fighting for and must be preserved.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Citizen Jane:

Battle for the City’

GRADE: B

Not rated: Nothing objectionable

Running time: 93 minutes

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