Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

Lear02_3806_01Jackson Lears at The London Review of Books:

Robert Moses was a modernist pharaoh. Over the forty years from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, he became a virtual dictator of public works in all five boroughs of New York and much of its suburban surroundings. Almost singlehandedly, through chicanery, fraud and bullying, he created the modern infrastructure of the New York City area: expressways, tunnels and bridges, but also parks, beaches, swimming pools and high-rise housing projects. He envisioned an American version of Le Corbusier’s ideal city, cleansed of disorder and unpredictability, focused on cars rather than pedestrians, committed to an idea of urban public space as empty plazas dominated by glass towers. He aspired to be a master builder, and his achievements ranged from the elegant – the Art Deco bathhouses at Jones Beach on Long Island – to the catastrophic: the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which destroyed thriving neighbourhoods and displaced thousands of people.

By 1968, when Moses was finally forced from power, the catastrophes had become impossible to ignore. The bridges, tunnels and expressways had intensified traffic jams, not relieved them; the public transport system was perishing from neglect; the destroyed neighbourhoods and high-rise housing projects were all boarded-up windows, broken glass and drunks marinating in their own piss. Moses was becoming a symbol of everything that was wrong with modernist urban planning: its hostility to street life, its indifference to neighbourhood cohesion, its infatuation with cars and the comparatively well-off people who drove them.

more here.