‘Citizen Jane’ — every citizen should see it

Jane Jacobs ripping the stenographer’s tape to shreds after leading Little Italy and Village residents in storming the stage at an officious hearing on the despised Lower Manhattan Expressway project led by what she derided as know-nothing bureaucrats.

Downtowners owe it to themselves to see “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.” This excellent new documentary chronicles the epic battles in the 1950s and ’60s between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses for the very soul of the Village and surrounding area. It’s currently having its theatrical release — fittingly, in the Village — a one-month run at the IFC Center, at W. Third St. and Sixth Ave. It was slated to close Thursday, but check IFC to see if the run is extended. If not, get it later on DVD.

The film was produced by Robert Hammond, one half of the team responsible for the High Line park.

Jacobs died in 2006 at age 89 in Toronto. During her Village years, the writer-turned-activist / urban planner and her allies showed that “master builder” Moses and his megaprojects, in fact, could be stopped through grassroots “people power.”

The film shows us the first victory over Moses by Jacobs, Shirley Hayes and their Village cohort of photo-op-friendly “stroller moms” — versus the plan by “The Power Broker” to plow a sunken road through Washington Square Park.

Next, Jacobs and Co. beat back Moses’ “urban renewal” plan to raze 14 blocks of 19th-century warehouses and brownstones in the West Village and redevelop them with “modernist towers.” In the end, the community succeeded in getting the low-rise, middle-income West Village Houses built there.

In her final showdown with Moses, Jacobs and Little Italy and Village residents sunk his Lower Manhattan Expressway. LOMEX, an elevated highway planned along Broome St., connecting the East River bridges and the Holland Tunnel, would have bulldozed 14 blocks through Little Italy and Soho. Moses scoffed that those “in the way” were renters who “don’t own anything,” so should move. Wow!

But Jacobs led a crowd in disrupting a LOMEX hearing and was arrested. She even destroyed the stenographer’s tape. Both the project and Moses met similar fates soon after: Moses was finally pushed out of power by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

Moses famously was a booster of the new car culture. But as anyone can see, especially on weekends, honking and polluting cars clog up our neighborhoods and make them less livable. Today, Moses’ “autos über alles” mentality is thankfully being reshaped with bike lanes, traffic calming — and, let’s hope, congestion pricing and bridge tolls soon, too.

Today, Jacobs continues to inspire all of us who care about preserving and creating livable, human-scale communities. As she explains in her seminal book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” the street is vitally important, providing a place for people to interact. Community gardens — like the Elizabeth St. Garden, now threatened with development — fulfill the same purpose.

“What would Jane do?” we often find ourselves asking. Supertall towers in areas desperate for protective rezoning, Airbnb abuse, the loss of Downtown hospitals, the Rivington House scandal, Hudson River Park air-rights sales… . Jacobs surely would have been on the right side of these issues — as always, unafraid to speak truth to power.

Education activists are pushing to name the new 75 Morton school for her. Their efforts to turn this dream into a reality embody Jacobs’ can-do spirit. The school naming would be a fitting honor for a truly fearless fighter whose role in saving Downtown was nothing short of heroic and massive.

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