I'm Gonna Kick Tomorrow

When I saw Citizen Jane, the documentary about Jane Jacobs, a few months ago, I probably drifted through a third of it. Just tired, nothing to do with the film. I felt like I needed to see it again, which I was able to do this afternoon at a local rep. Glad I did--there were whole sections I missed the first time. A couple of points before I get to the real purpose of this post. I see so many documentaries these days that end with a rah-rah call to action. Normally, Iím just not the organizing type, with a kind of ingrained skepticism verging on antipathy about such things. Iíve always felt like the minute youíve got more than three people trying to accomplish something together, youíre headed for mind-numbing inertia. A big part of this comes from what I first witnessed during the dissolution of Nerve and Graffiti in the late Ď80s, and then again with CKLN a decade ago, where well-intentioned scenarios of how to save the day never amounted to anything. But Citizen Jane almost makes me a believer. Three times Jacobs took on Robert Moses, the imperious New York City developer (the film makes a good match for Best of Enemies, the Vidal-Buckley documentary), and three times, through what Republicans contemptuously called community organizing during Obamaís presidency--and with an assist from some big names in the literary world--she crushed him. Actually inspiring. And, much less consequential, I laughed at the way the film pulls an American Graffiti in reverse. In Pauline Kaelís original 1973 review, she took George Lucas to task for a postscript that lets you know what happened to the four male principals but completely ignores the (more interesting, in many ways) three females. Citizen Jane gives you a postscript on Jacobs, nothing on Moses. Even as the filmís villain, it is a two-person dynamic on display, and Moses ought to get a few words too. A couple of years down the road, after I retire, my plan is to sell my house and relocate to somewhere where I can buy something much bigger for considerably less. Right now, Iím focussed on London, Ontario. Weíll see--a sudden slowdown in the housing market may interfere. Anyway, I also want to move because of the issue that Jacobs devoted her life to: the transformation of the city into something very different and much less vibrant than what it once was. With Jacobs, this was rooted in the proliferation of public housing and roadways, the destruction of neighbor- hoods, and the general disregard of public planners for life on the street. With me, the trans- formation has more to do with the realities of a changing economy: the two-decade disappearance of the record stores, book stores, and rep houses that used to define Toronto for me, replaced by condos and box stores and sushi restaurants. To be precise: record stores, essentially gone (or so expensive theyíre qualitatively something else); book stores, going fast; rep houses, lingering, but also qualitatively something else (theyíre more like a repository for newer re- leases either not suited to the multiplexes, or a month removed from their first run; older films are mixed in occasionally). Thereís less and less reason for me to stay--Iíd rather have the bigger house. Something else occurred to me, though, a phenomenon just coming into being when Jacobs died (2006), one whose stranglehold on city life today she couldnít have foreseen: the sight of person after person walking around with their heads glued to a device, oblivious to everything and everyone around them, living in some alternate universe that could just as well be relocated to Antarctica or Neptune without them even taking notice. Itís pathetic--I get the feeling some- times that half the people in Toronto havenít made eye contact with another human being in five years. People I work with kid me a lot because I donít have a cell phone. Itís a running joke that I enjoy and even nurture (I recently bought a rotary phone at a garage sale so I could put up a jokey post on Facebook). But--above and beyond the simple fact that I have no earthly need for an iPhone--thereís genuine disgust behind my aversion to them, a disgust that extends, yes, to some of those same people I work with (why Iím posting this here, out of view, rather than something much shorter on Facebook). Theyíre great people, and on this one narrow point theyíre no different than the rest of the world. Nevertheless: whenever Iím sitting in the staff room talking to someone whoís not looking at me because heís messaging or scrolling through whatever on his cell phone, I just want to reach over, grab it, and smash it into a million pieces. (Punctuated, for flair, by ďOh, Iím sorry--did I break your concentration?Ē) It is unbelievably, profoundly rude. And thatís what Jacobsí city streets are more and more being reduced to, invisible backdrops for personal-device time, and ditto for every other restaurant patio and public space you pass. If Jane Jacobs were to walk around downtown Toronto today, I have to wonder: would she think this wasteland of insularity and isolation even worth saving? (Please check back for future posts just like this one. Next week I'll be addressing motor- cycles, Twitter, and clouds.)

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