Saving the city

photo courtesy of Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

An activist fights against developers to stop mega-projects from taking over the city and destroying communities.

Does Jane Jacobs' story sound familiar?

The documentary Citizen Jane: Battle For The City is sure to ring a bell among Thai architects, urban planners and activists resisting the government's colossal but controversial plans for Bangkok.

During the past couple of years, countless debates have arisen on the use of city space in the capital, as projects and policies continue to be pushed forward.

The breaking up of local communities to make way for new structures and the ban imposed on street vendors (to make way for what -- wobbly, if existent at all, pavements?) have left many wondering whether Bangkok will soon be emptied of its inhabitants and soul.

Could Jane Jacobs -- journalist, author of the cult book The Death And Life Of Great American Cities and a brilliant advocate for the diversity and vibrancy of city life -- then teach us a lesson?

Fortunately, the Jane Jacobs Thai Network, in partnership with King Mongkut University of Technology Thonburi's School of Architecture and Design, will screen the 2016 movie on Saturday, Aug 19 at the Alliance Française in Bangkok.

The film retraces Jacobs's story in 1960s New York, as she speaks truth to power -- power being personified in this case by Robert Moses, known as the master builder, the tsar of urban development of his time.

As Moses knocked down buildings and displaced communities, projected highways that would cross New York's historical heart and parked low-income earners in grim, uniform structures on the city's outskirts, his opponent believed that a city should be planned from the bottom up to meet people's needs.

"There is no logic that can be superimposed on a city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans," Jacobs says in the movie.

This documentary film by Matt Tyrnauer is the perfect occasion to revisit Jacobs' story, as she fights the good fight. But it should also act as a reminder that true development isn't measured by the amount of concrete we lie on in our cities -- especially in times of massive urbanisation in many parts of the world.

Aside from the screening itself, two panel discussions will be held, at 10am and 4pm.

The first panel, entitled "Re-Reading The Death And Life Of Great American Cities", will be composed of Pechlada Petchphakdee from Mahasarakham University, Kan Nateewutikul and Anusorn Tipayanon from Chiang Mai University. They will be joined via Skype by Kasama Polkij from the University of Idaho and Yanyong Boon-long.

Speakers on the second panel will be Somsuk Boonyabancha, secretary-general of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights; Niramon Kulsrisombat, director of the Urban Development and Design Centre; and filmmaker Apiwat Saengpattaseema.

-- Ariane Kupferman-Sutthavong



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