Film Shows How Jane Jacobs’ Urban Activism Saved Many Neighborhoods From Demolition

Jane Jacobs was one of the first female urban activists of her era.

Matt Tyrnauer’s film “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” tells the David and Goliath story of urban activist Jane Jacobs.

Motivated by devastating neighborhood demolitions, Jacobs found herself going head-to-head with New York City’s powerful urban renewal czar Robert Moses. Her efforts literally saved Washington Square Park from becoming a thoroughfare.

Jacobs believed the cities were people, not fancy new buildings.

“Urban planners saw themselves as surgeons, specifically cancer surgeons, who were going to cut out the ‘cancer’ (urban neighborhoods) and replace it with ‘healthy urban tissue,'” said Matt Tyrnauer about the corrupt intentions of urban developers in the 1950s.

Tyrnauer believes that a lot of the bad changes that occurred within cities in the 20th century (and also in today’s time) are motivated by racism.

In some cases of urban planning, racism was so ingrained into development that it was given the name “slum clearance” or “urban renewal.” Most of these areas were held predominately by black neighborhoods and minorities.

The government campaigned and advertised for suburban living, while labeling minority groups as “slum-dwellers.” After wealthy groups were driven from urban neighborhoods, minorities were left in critical conditions and often displaced from their homes due to the economic shift in their areas.

Atlanta’s Freedom Park Conservancy has its own story to tell of the toll road that threatened to demolish Inman Park, Candler Park, Virginia-Highland, Druid Hills, Lake Claire and the extraordinary, everyday people of Atlanta who stopped it from happening.

Filmmaker Tyrnauer and Freedom Park Conservancy Board Chair Harriett Lane stopped by the WABE studio to speak with “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes.

This story was originally published on

February 2020
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