Imagine city planning as a contact sport and you have the gist of Matt Tyrnauer's documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. The film chronicles the struggle between two mid-20th century worldviews: that of Robert Moses, who preached a cure for what ailed American cities that amounted to "bulldoze and replace," and the less destructive prescriptions of writer/activist Jane Jacobs, who challenged the whole notion of urban renewal in her game-changing book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
She was the David to his Goliath. As New York's unelected but powerful parks commissioner, transit czar and head of public works, Moses was intent on creating the city of tomorrow — a place of glistening, angular high-rises, soaring bridges, and superhighways. And in the 1950s and '60s, he had the muscle to make them happen. As he talks of cutting out the "cancer" of slums, the images on-screen are of whole blocks being demolished by wrecking ball and explosives.
But it's a feature of such top-down approaches to city planning that when you take a view from the clouds, the city's inhabitants become mere specks on your architectural models.
"Today our greatest single problem is tenant removal," Moses intones matter-of-factly. "You have to move people out of the way of a slum clearance project, and a lot of them are not gonna like it." Grant the man a gift for understatement.