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Monthly Archives: April 2017

New Film: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

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In 1960 Jane Jacobs’ 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 also an activist, who was involved in 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 urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’ prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today though the lens of one of its greatest champions.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

In the face of developers and the overzealous parks commissioner Robert Moses, who, in
the 1950s, wanted to run a four-lane highway through the middle of the park, Jacobs and
other Greenwich Village residents and activists organized a formal opposition to the city’s plans.
Through community-driven support, a large neighborhood coalition, a series of public protests, and a years-long letter-writing campaign to officials at every level of city government, Jacobs and her compatriots eventually triumphed and Moses’s park-destroying plan was shelved.
It was a battle much like the one Sanders’s campaign has framed today: a grassroots coalition of regular people fed up with the top-down impositions of the powers that be running roughshod over regular citizens.

Jacobs, whose centenary will be celebrated on May 4, is something of a spiritual soul mate to Sanders. The parallels between their underlying ideologies are striking. And as
Sanders’s popularity and fame continues to skyrocket, it’s time to give his fellow New
Yorker, Jacobs, her due. Jacobs’s fight for Washington Square Park—and for the people’s right to the city—is a story I tell in Citizen Jane (which is produced by one of New
York’s newer grassroots activists, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond).

Like the modern-day opposition to the role of big banks and the political influence of the wealthiest one percent, Jane Jacobs and the Greenwich Village community members were fighting against a power structure that valued its own perseverance over the public it was ostensibly serving. She, more than anyone else of her era, deserves credit for unmasking this unseemly cabal.

A BATTLE FOUGHT IN THE STREETS 

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is a story about our global urban future, in which nearly three-fourths of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of this century. It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities have dramatically clashed with grassroots, “bottom up” approaches. The film brings us back mid-century, on the eve of the battles for the heart and soul of American cities, about to be routed by cataclysmically destructive Urban Renewal and highway projects.

The film details the revolutionary thinking of Jane Jacobs, and the origins of her 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, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses figure centrally in our story as archetypes of the “bottom up” and the “top down” vision for cities. They also 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, the upper class, 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. In three suspenseful acts,

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City gives audiences a front row seat to this battle, and shows how two opposing visions of urban greatness continue to ripple across the world stage, with unexpectedly high stakes, made even higher and more unexpectedly urgent in the suddenly shifting national political landscape of 2017, in which the newly inaugurated U.S. President is a real estate developer, who is calling for a new era Urban Renewal, echoing the traumatic period in which this film takes place. In perilous times for the city and for civil rights, Citizen Jane offers a playbook, courtesy of Jane Jacobs, for organizing communities and speaking the truth to entrenched and seemingly insurmountable powers.

https://dogwoof.com/citizenjane#screenings

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Conference Call for Papers: The Design, Planning and Politics of How and Where we Live

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Place: University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK
Dates: 25-26 January 2018
Organisers: Department of Architecture, UWE, with AMPS. In collaboration with the Public Health Film Society and World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre at UWE.

Abstract Submission (Round 1): 01 June 2017   

http://architecturemps.com/bristol-2018/

The conference welcomes delegates to present in-person, via Skype or pre-recorded video which will be uploaded to the AMPS YouTube channel.

This major international conference considers the sustainability and healthiness of the places we live in – from our houses to our cities. Inspired by the origin of the public health movement in the issues of urban housing, it seeks an interdisciplinary debate on the quality of life in the built environment. It welcomes health professionals, sociologists, community activists, architects, planners, urban designers, and more.

From a health perspective, it continues the work of AMPS over the past three years on public health. From a housing perspective it continues AMPS engagement with the Housing – Critical Futures research programme. In its concern with the ‘politics of housing and health’ it continues collaborations with sociologists and community researchers. From a design point of view, it brings together the work of architects and spatial designers from various disciplines concerned with a better quality living environment affecting wellbeing, health and social sustainability.

Publications:
There will be a conference proceedings publication with its own ISSN.
There are several other publications:
1. A Special Issues of the Architecture_MPS journal
2.  Amps Book Series with UCL Press
3. Amps Book Series with Libri Publishing
4. Amps Book Series with Vernon Press

Other Partners:
The event is coordinated by the UK non-profit research organisation AMPS as part of its engagement with the UN Habitat University Initiative. It is part of a series being organised by an international consortium of universities and publishers including: The University of Derby, La Universidad de Sevilla, University of Cyprus, Swinburne University Australia, London South Bank University Liverpool and John Moores University, UCL Press and Libri Publishing.

This particular event is organised by the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.
http://architecturemps.com/bristol-2018/

Image: Guy Freeman

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We included an article on these structures exactly one year ago today – and were still hopeful that the Indian Government would see sense and agree to retain these important pieces of architecture. Alas, they made a terrible decision and sent in the wrecking ball.

There was no real justification for this act of cultural vandalism. It is a disgraceful destruction of modern heritage, not to mention the environmental waste.

Next month the AHRC and Indian Council for Historical Research will be sponsoring a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India‘ in Delhi. Its too late for the Maidan but let’s hope the workshop can provoke some much needed change.

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Read and see more at the Hindustan Times.

The 6th Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa, has just concluded with a particular focus this year on ‘Building Resilience through African Urban Culture’. Held at KNUST in Kumasi, Ghana the conference welcomed speakers from Nigeria, South Africa and UK, as well as a host of research papers presented from scholars based in Ghana.

Key note speakers (including Prof. Chike Oduoza, Dr Obuks Ejohwomu and Prof. Mugendi M’Rithaa) lucidly presented the varied and many challenges facing African cities today – with particular focus on energy use, digital infrastructure and the internet of every/things.

Prof. M’Rithaa’s presentation included some very striking map visuals, including the image below that shows the true size of Africa relative to other countries – something that Mercator projection of the world fails to reveal. You can just make out on the poor quality photo below the outlines of USA and India. He also spoke very eloquently on how our solutions must be people centred, rather than imposed solutions. Dr Ejohwomu also challenged us with many provocative questions and themes – including a cartoon showing an emaciated cow and a worker abandoning it in pursuit of an obese cattle. His challenge was that we can’t simply walk away from the problem and that Africa needs us to focus on its problems rather than attempting to flee them in the ‘global north’. This message also reinforced by Prof. David Edwards and Dr. Erica Parn in their presentation.

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I gave a presentation on the rich modern architectural history of Ghana, and the infrastructure of culture that exists here. I focused on a series of building types including education, community centres, and libraries, as well as the town planning and historical development of Kumasi.

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Nearly 50 papers followed on a vast array of topics as well as a striking art installation on the plight of the African Giant Snail’s ecosystem. A new journal was launched ‘Journal of Built Environment (ISSN: 2026-5409) and next year the conference will migrate to Lagos – we look forward to hearing more from this important gathering.