Image courtesy of City Fabrick.
A special screening of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016), directed by journalist and documentarian Matt Tyrnauer, will take place at the Art Theatre Wednesday evening, followed by a Q&A with the director and an expert panel discussion.
Described as a David-and-Goliath battle between master builder Robert Moses and activist Jane Jacobs, the film portrays their “battles for the city” with Moses, who had the money, power and political influence to essentially pave over New York with highways and concrete-slab housing and Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961) who fought long and hard to transform the way we look at cities, in a way that prioritizes the people living in them.
“Her real concept was about what constitutes a healthy city and at the time [...] when that book was written and even through the 60s and 70s, there were these really grand philosophies about what a city was and they didn’t really take into account the people or how they lived,” Jan van Dijs, who helped bring the documentary to Long Beach, told the Post. “It was more about this creating-architecture-as-a-monument and somehow the people were just going to have to fit into it. And I think philosophically it sounded great, but I think it was very elitist and it left people out.”
The documentary includes Jacobs fighting Moses’ plan to run an expressway through lower Manhattan, what would have been a devastating decision in retrospect to New York City’s rebirth, said van Dijs. Having grown up in New York, he said in the late 80s, a lot of people, albeit well-intentioned, thought tearing it down and rebuilding the city would solve its problems, socially and more, but that “that was not the solution.”
“My movie is about the power struggle between two people who each believed they were saving New York City, even though they had diametrically opposed points of view and methodologies,” Tyrnauer said during an interview with Architectural Digest.
Van Dijs, as a developer who has rehabilitated many a historic building locally has a personal investment in Long Beach’s growth and history architecturally, with the applicability of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City to a local level not lost on the prolific designer.
“I think she was the one that recognized the fact that these communities that people discount are actually very vibrant living amazing communities,” van Dijs said. “And I think that when you’re talking about Long Beach you kind of have a little bit of that same history here because we tore down so much of our historical buildings and fabric, always trying to build something bigger and better, and there’s an insecurity to that.”
Jacob’s activism seems all too topical today, as more and more developers look to Long Beach to build, as rents continue to climb, and its longtime residents fear displacement or have already been displaced. Last week, several community organizations picketed outside the World Trade Center demanding the attention of attendees of a conference aimed at developers who may bring their business to the city.
“And so Long Beach has been struggling to find who it is for so many years and the reality of the answer hasis always been here in front of us,” van Dijs continued. “We are who we are. We’re a diverse city, we’re a rich city, we’re a poor city. And until we embrace that concept of who Long Beach is we’re always going to be searching for something that doesn’t exist, and I think she was the first one to explain that in that book, really, really well.”
Sitting on the panel, a discussion to follow a Q&A session with the director, will be Steve Gerhardt representing Walk Long Beach, Michael Bohn representing both Studio One Eleven and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Chris Koontz, advance planning officer for the City of Long Beach. The event is also sponsored by City Fabrick and Altimeter Films.
Walk Long Beach recently organized the city’s first Jane’s Walk, a worldwide event inspired by the activist herself, when for about two weeks a series of neighborhood walks were hosted throughout the area. When Gerhardt shared the announcement in April, he mentioned the hope was to help residents get to know their surroundings and each other a bit better.
“The goal for us is to look at this film and look at someone who was an activist in creating or preserving cities for people and really analyzing how that works for us and how we can take lessons from that and apply it to the current and the future,” van Dijs said.
The purchase of a ticket includes the screening followed by a Q&A with the director, followed by the panel discussion. The event will take place Wednesday from 6:30PM to 9:30PM. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Facebook event page here.
The Art Theatre is located at 2025 East 4th Street.