Thursday, May 4, 2017

Movie Review--Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Yesterday was a busy 24-hour period, so today I treated myself to a matinee, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary that portrays one of the great urban thinkers of the 20th century.

This is a documentary which portrays Jane Jacobs, a prominent public intellectual who lived in Greenwich Village and wrote important critiques of the urban planning practices of the post-war period.  I thought the film was excellent, and I will outsource a more detailed review by recommending this very well done review of the film.

Jane Jacobs was a journalist and a keen observer of social phenomenon in cities, and her observations have been very influential in the area of urban planning.  She is sometimes cited by economists, but her ideas have not become well integrated into mainstream urban economic theory.  The economist Sanford Ikeda, who appears in the film, is a rare example of an economist who connects the details of her writing and thinking on cities with the scholarly economics literature.

The imagery in the file is very powerful, as it includes some incredibly vibrant historical scenes from 20th century (pre-Urban Renewal) United States, as well as contemporary scenes of hectic but "organic" street life in India, as well as some much more modernist examples from China.

Speaking of China.  This semester my Regional Economics class read Matt Kahn's recent book (with Siqi Zheng) titled, "Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China."  Sometime this summer I intend to write a very positive review of this book, and discuss using it in the classroom.  Citizen Jane suggests at one point that China is making some of the same mistakes the US made during Urban Renewal, but it did not consider alternative paths that urban development in China could take, and the relevant trade-offs in local and global pollution associated with them.  The film does a great job of highlighting that many of the same issues that Jane Jacobs faced continue to be among the most defining issues of our time.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't think I would encounter a post on Jane Jacobs when coming to your site to reference your Caltrans paper, but I am glad I did!

    I came across Jane Jacobs, interestingly enough, while looking for applications of Austrian Economics. What particularly interests me is her conception of cities and its residents which parallels Hayek's ideas of spontaneous order and tacit knowledge.

    I understand she has always been a prominent urban theorist and public intellectual, but it seems likes her work has gotten a boost in recent years. Apart from Dr. Ikeda's writings, I see she has inspired research by Dr. Glaeser and Dr. Pierre Desrochers in economic geography/regional economics on inter-firm knowledge externalities, or "Jacobs Spillovers." Also, I believe even the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is putting on a Market Urbanism Track at its conference this year, and if I'm not mistaken, Professor Ikeda will be speaking at it.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. My wife and I plan on going to watch the movie soon.