(Excerpted from Curbed, May 4, 2016):
A Marvelous Order is only one of a number of contemporary projects, graphic, documentary, and social, that call upon Jane in a variety of ways beyond simple biography. Jane Jacobs is a historical figure, of course, and this fall Knopf will publish Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. But as someone who wrote a version of the now commonplace coupling of Bob (Moses) and Jane (Jacobs) 10 years ago, I would argue that she is now also an avatar, a figure onto which urban advocates project their desires for a different kind of dialogue, a different kind of planning, a different kind of hero. Many of us have a Jane in our imagination: a Jane who fights the power, a Jane who explains the city, a Jane who parents, a Jane who sings.
For journalist-turned-director Matt Tyrnauer, Jacobs is less a soloist and more of a claxon, as we will see when his documentary on Jacobs is released later this year. "The message of the film is, it is up to you. That’s what she would say: every city is different, and you’ve got to understand your neighborhood. It is a movie about her ideas, really, and how they still apply," he says. Tyrnauer cooked up the idea of a documentary on Jacobs four years ago, after completing his successful feature Valentino: The Last Emperor. He met Robert Hammond, one of the founders of Friends of the High Line, in Rome. "We got together in Rome and began talking about our mutual obsession over Death and Life," Tyrnauer says. "I wanted to make a movie about architecture and design, and we realized there had never been a documentary of the highest quality on Jane Jacobs." Hammond, along with several others, signed on as a producer.
The documentary tells the story we think we know, of Jacobs as a herald of the destructive power of urban renewal, as well as a street-level activist. "The movie tells that story and then it frames the story in context of the world today," Tyrnauer says. "We explain why an audience should be aware and interested in cities and have an understanding, as she wrote, ‘of the kind of problem a city is.’" He filmed in New York, India, and China, and spoke to many people who worked with Jacobs, including Jason Epstein, her editor at Random House, and the late Mayor Ed Koch, who also got his start trying to save the Village.
Just as I was curious to hear Jane Jacobs sing, I am excited to hear Jacobs’s actual voice in vintage footage the team found by digging deep at city agencies and archival houses. Some of it, Tyrnauer says, has never been seen. "She says in one of the film clips, when she began to look at urban renewal she began to see it was absurd, insane. To some it was very vexing that this outsider, much less a woman, pointed to the disastrous course we were taking in the history of the design of cities." Their hope is that people are incited to the kind of activism she was through an understanding of cities as networks rather than hierarchies: "A free and vibrant city comes from the bottom up. You as a citizen can help to change your city."
c/o Alexandra Lange | Curbed