In 1960 Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was an activist who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York to stop ‘master builder’ Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanisation moves to the very front of the global agenda.
Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
The film highlights Jane Jacobs’ magisterial 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning. This is exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s ‘Master Builder’, Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses figure as two larger-than-life personalities: Jacobs—a journalist with provincial origins, no formal training in city planning, and scarce institutional authority seems at first glance to share little in common with Robert Moses—a high prince of government and urban theory fully ensconced in New York’s halls of power and privilege. Yet both reveal themselves to be master tacticians who, in the middle of the 20th century, became locked in an epic struggle over the fate of the city.