Jane Jacobs was an urban activist and public intellectual, a woman who “believed the city is not about buildings, the city is about people.” Jacob’s life and activism are depicted in Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City, a documentary film about her efforts to stop redevelopment of now historic New York City neighborhoods in the 1960s.
Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes will be screening the documentary on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 2 p.m. A moderated discussion with the film’s producer, Robert Hammond will follow the screening.
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For San Antonians, the film will sound some familiar themes. With its nearly 300-year-old history, San Antonio is a rapidly growing city with a changing landscape. Population growth is encouraging development to accommodate the newest additions to the city’s unique makeup.
But with new development comes the risk of redeveloping buildings and neighborhoods that gave shape to a city and culture that have existed for decades. It was this sort of practice that Jacobs fiercely fought against in New York City in the 1960s.
Her story is one of standing in the way of what seemed to be the “absolute power” held at the time by mega-developer Robert Moses. He planned to put expressways on top of the neighborhoods that now give New York much of its character. One of those neighborhoods was Greenwich Village, where Jacobs lived.
Hammond, who co-founded the wildly successful High Line linear park in lower Manhattan, wants the documentary to do more than just inform.
“I did this movie, not for people to learn about Jane Jacobs, but to sort of spark a conversation about their own cities,” Hammond told the Rivard Report in an interview from New York City on Wednesday. “And get people agency that can affect what happens to their cities.”
Initiatives similar to the ones Jacobs undertook throughout her life can be seen in some of San Antonio’s city districts. Local organizations like the Westside Preservation Alliance are leading efforts to maintain the historic buildings, neighborhoods, and culture that laid the foundation on which the city is now growing.
Historic neighborhoods in cities as close as Austin have not always been able to stand up to the influences of new development and gentrification. Hammond hopes that viewers who see the documentary will understand that issues like gentrification can be managed by active residents who understand that history can persevere in times of change.
“[Jacobs] was one person,” Hammond said. “A woman journalist in the 1960s went up against the most powerful man in America basically … and beat him three times.
“I hope it gives hope beyond just in city planning. That we can make a difference.”