A beautifully organised documentary (befitting its subject, urban planning), ‘Citizen Jane’ profiles an iconic New York showdown that took place over 50 years ago. In one corner, Robert Moses, the city’s powerful construction guru, who looked down upon the map – and neighbourhoods he didn’t understand – from a godlike height and decided to build an expressway in lower Manhattan. In the other, Jane Jacobs, a Greenwich Village architecture writer-turned-activist, who linked arms with her community to protect it from ruin. Who won?
The very fact that New York’s Soho still exists, and has not been impaled by a cross-city artery, is a testament to Jacobs’s grit. ‘Citizen Jane’ delves into issues of sexism (Jacobs, a respected journalist, was often painted by her foes as an angry mother), economic despair and the complex idea of the ‘master builder’. To see the bland towers going up in China and India is to know that her crusade is far from over.