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How one woman harnessed people power to save old New York

New film tells story of Jane Jacobss battle’s against the wealthiest developers in the city.

She was a beaky, bespectacled architecture writer, hardly a figure likely to ignite protests that changed the shape of one of the worlds great cities. Yet such is the legend of Jane Jacobs and her bitter struggles to preserve the heart of New York from modernisation that a film charting her astonishing victories over some of the most powerful developers in the US is set to inspire a new generation of urban activists around the world.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City tells the story of Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who made herself the bane of New Yorks powerful city planners from the 1950’s to 1970’s. Her nemesis was Robert Moses, the city’s powerful master builder and advocate of urban renewal, or wholesale neighbourhood clearance what author James Baldwin termed negro removal.

Moses dismissed the protesters as a bunch of mothers, and attempted to ignore their efforts to attract wider attention, which included taping white crosses across their glasses in the style of Jacobs.

But through a combination of grassroots activism, fundraising and persistence, Jacobs blocked Moses and successive city overlords from running Fifth Avenue through the historic Washington Square, tearing down much of SoHo and Little Italy to make way for a billion-dollar expressway, and building a six-lane highway up Manhattans west side.

“Some issues you fight with lawsuits and buy time that way,” she later wrote. “With others, you buy time by throwing other kinds of monkey wrenches in. You have to buy time in all these fights. The lawsuit is the more expensive way.”

Little Italy, in New York, saved from demolition for a $1bn expressway. Photograph: Maremagnum/Getty Images

Jacobs warned of the dangers of mixing big business and government, and called them monstrous hybrids. She warned, too, that huge housing projects favoured by developers from the school of Le Corbusier would only bring social dislocation to the poor while making developers wealthy.

Jacobs’s method of prevarication, says Citizen Jane director Matt Tyrnauer, wrote the manual for activism. Speaking truth to power was her great strength, and she was fearless, but she was also a great strategist and analysed how to get to politicians and threaten them in ways that were going to be effective.

Robert Hammond, who produced Citizen Jane and co-founded the High Line, a significant renewal project along Manhattan’s west side that turned an elevated rail track into a garden and walkway, says key to her protest was targeting lower-tier elected officials because they depend on you for their jobs and they know it. She understood that fighting government is a slog, and no matter how powerful you think people are, things can be changed the value of individuals coming together and working as an organism, which today we call crowdsourcing.

Those lessons, in particular Jacobs’s later studies of economics, helped shape The Indivisible Project, an umbrella organisation for thousands of protest groups that have sprung up in the US in the aftermath of the presidential election.

Tyrnauer, who previously directed Valentino: The Last Emperor, considers that Indivisible’s activism, which includes berating local officials and challenging congressional leaders at town hall meetings, is cut from the Jacobs playbook. Late last year the group’s founders, four congressional aides moved to act by the election of Donald Trump, published suggestions that have become central to democratic resistance. Six thousand groups have registered so far, seeking to follow Indivisible’s basic, Jacobs-esque credo: localised defensive advocacy; recognition that elected representatives think primarily about re-election and how to use that; efforts to build constituent power through organically formed, locally led groups; and a focus on congressional representatives via town hall meetings, district office visits and mass phone calls.

Jane Jacobs won many victories over her nemesis Robert Moses, the powerful master builder. Photograph: Library of Congress/Sundance Selects

In her academic and personal life, Jacobs looked at the power individuals have in their own communities, says co-founder and executive director Ezra Levin. Indivisible is fundamentally about constituent power, and we recommend that people assert that power on their own turf, in their own communities. But the connection runs deeper. Jacobs maintained cities are best left to be self-organising. Too much control and they become lifeless. She believed they should be messy something old, something new and warned of the concentration of money and too little diversity. Crucial to Indivisible’s success is an individual group’s basic autonomy. “It’s crucial that this is not a franchise operation. We’ve created a platform but the decisions these groups are taking, or their exact form is fundamentally driven at a local level.”

Jacobs, who died in 2006 and whose centennial falls this year, used to tell an anti-authoritarian story about a preacher who warns children: In hell, there will be wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“What if you don’t have teeth?” one of the children asks.

Then teeth will be provided.

“That’s it the spirit of the designed city: teeth will be provided for you,” she told the New Yorker in 2004.

In Citizen Jane, the documentarians seek to apply the lessons of Manhattan in the 50’s to the urbanisation of China and India. The results are inconclusive.

Many of the challenges cities now face, at least in the west, are reversals of the clearances that affected cities in the last century. “The suburbs are where the poor people are moved to, and they’re becoming more impractical than cities to live in,” says Hammond.

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Global Market for Smart City Technology to Triple by 2019; Urbanization of Asia and South American Cities Driving Strong Growth, According to BCC Research

Wellesley, Mass., June 23, 2015 – Global urbanization is swelling cities around the world, with more than 70% of the world’s population already living in urban areas. BCC Research reveals in its new report that information and communication technologies (ICT) will play a vital role in how cities become smarter in sustaining quality of life without upsetting the ecological balance.

The global market for smart city technologies will grow from $ 212.3 billion in 2013 to $ 668.5 billion in 2019, reflecting a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.9%. North America, the largest market, is anticipated to reach $ 218.3 billion in 2019, with a 16.1% CAGR. Europe, the region with the highest projected growth rate at 23.1% CAGR, will reach $ 197.7 billion by 2019.

The major cities in the world have transformed into massive cosmopolitan regions with considerable cultural diversity. The growing awareness of our fragile ecology and the evolving environmental compliances and regulations have made it difficult to govern these large cities. Key driving forces for the smart cities market include the increasing rate of migration from rural areas into new urban areas coupled with the expanding global population and the demand for a sustainable infrastructure.

Smart cities make extensive use of communication technologies to improve the quality of life of their citizens. As environmental regulations have become stricter, there has been an increase in “green” solutions and technologies that has fueled the growth in the smart cities sector.

A number of factors hindering adoption of smart city solutions: scaling of newer technologies is unproven; technology challenges the status quo in how cities are run; and technology is not well understood across several city sectors. However, the main barrier to adopting such solutions is the complexity in how cities are operated, financed, regulated and planned.

“Current research shows that the necessary heavy funding and capital expenditures will exert a huge restraint on the smart cities market. Various socio-economic and political factors also pose risks for the development of smart cities,” says BCC research analyst Miguel Pimentel. “The differences in the social strata and political agendas pose risks in the evolving smart cities projects, and so the current research aims to facilitate the compression on how the market works.”

Smart Cities: Growing New Markets for Information Technology (IFT115A) discusses the global market for information technology in terms of growth, size and opportunities. It also examines key economic, business, and social drivers, technology issues, regulatory factors, and the competitive landscape.

Editors and reporters who wish to speak with the analyst should contact Steven Cumming at

About BCC Research

BCC Research publishes market research reports that make organizations worldwide more profitable with intelligence that drives smart business decisions. These reports cover today’s major industrial and technology sectors, including emerging markets. For more than 40 years we’ve helped customers identify new market opportunities with accurate and reliable data and insight, including market sizing, forecasting, industry overviews, and identification of significant trends and key market participants. We partner with analysts who are experts in specific areas of industry and technology, providing unbiased measurements and assessments of global markets. Recently selected as the world’s greatest market research company, BCC Research is a unit of Eli Global, LLC. Visit our website at Contact us: (+1) 781-489-7301 (U.S. Eastern Time), or email

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