Tuesday, February 20, 2007

But he never got the Mount Hood Freeway: Robert Moses is the Antichrist to a certain generation of urbanist thinkers, and to those of us who grew up in places where his influence was at its lowest. He was the urban planner who gave New York City the BQE, the LIE, the West Side Highway, the FDR, the Van Wyck, the Cross-Bronx, et cetera. He was the urban planner who nearly destroyed America’s great cities to make more room for cars and sprawl. I was fortunate to grow up in Portland, Oregon, one of the least Moses-friendly places on Earth, which memorably rejected one of his pet projects and became the first city in America to tear out a freeway. But three new exhibits in New York are trying to reclaim Moses’ legacy. I’m not buying it, but the Daily News is:

Finkelpearl says that while there is a desire to look at Moses’ achievements more evenhandedly, the estimation of the man himself is unchanged. His racism, for example, is well-documented, but it was standard for the time. It did not prevent him from building a swimming pool in Harlem. He also built Lenox Terrace, the first building in Harlem that had 24-hour doorman service and upscale amenities.

As for his destroying the South Bronx, Ballon points to an overhead view that shows the George Washington Bridge shortly after its completion in 1929.

“It was like a cannon pointed at the South Bronx,” she says. “You had all this traffic coming over needing to go North and East - where was the logical place to sort it out?”

An interesting part of the third Moses exhibit, “Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution” at the Wallach Art Galleries at Columbia University, is the unused designs for Lincoln Center, one of his grandest projects.

Coming back from Columbia on the M11 bus, however, passing blocks and blocks of high-rise apartments, reinforces Jacobs’ objections to Moses’ plans: The buildings are drab, the grounds lifeless, a stark contrast to the streets just south, where tenements have been renovated, new businesses seem to be thriving and the streets themselves are inviting.


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