NYC Past to Future Lens Through Moses’ Eyes

The impact that Robert Moses had on NYC is indisputable. During his reign as the “building maestro”, he completed massive projects in with speed and efficiency, building hundreds of miles of new roads, thousands of acres of parklands and beaches, multiple art complexes as well as new bridges, and more (page 2-3). Despite these indisputable remarkable feats that he accomplished, a massive controversy exists questioning his methodologies and ultimate impacts: did he propel NYC into the future with massive modernization efforts and through projects focused on eradication of slums and building of new roads or did he displace great numbers of innocent people and nearly destroy the city as we know it? In my personal opinion, the answer to this controversy is not at all black and white and in a way I think Moses did both. However, after completing this week’s reading, I found myself focusing on a different approach to the readings. I had the following question in mind: what would New York City look like today if Robert Moses still had the power he once yielded? The pictures above provide a visual model with a potential answer to this question.

The models take a “past to future” approach at predicting what modern NYC would look like under Moses’ reign. The first map features a time line of events, predicting what our city, specifically just Manhattan, would look like if all of Moses’ propositions came into play.  For example, from the readings we would imagine that Moses’ ideal NYC would be dominated by expressways, given by his assertion that cities are “created by and for traffic” (page 12), as well as rows of public housing projects, given by his Title 1 efforts. The map demonstrates just that with various predictions of expressways, such as the LOMEX, the Central Park Expressway as well as the 125th Street Expressway. Furthermore, the map also shows the opening of “Hudson View Housing”, as an example of a public housing project Moses’ would’ve improved.  Another example is the destruction of clearing of Greenwich village, which Moses would most likely label a “slum” for the building of new housing projects, shown on this visual at 1961. Additionally, in terms of visuals the map demonstrates that buildings are leveled in entire neighborhoods, making them seem almost “block like”. This again accommodates Moses’ vision of the city because the leveling of the buildings would make it possible for the construction of the aforementioned expressways that Moses clearly advocated for.

What I found particularly interesting about this model was its real life approach and ability to predict probable consequences of Moses’ version of NYC. For instance, under Moses’ ideal city, there would be a very real oil crisis predicted by the map to occur in 2012. The oil crisis would be a result of the car/expressway dominated city, which directly relies on oil. As a result of this crisis, this visual predicts blanketing Washington Square Park to remediate and rectify the massive presence of cars in NYC. This further connects to the readings in that Washington Square Park would never have to be blanketed in the first place because of local group activists like the Washington Square Committee rallied to save their park (page 75). Moses’ plan was to build a highway through Washington square park, effectively cutting the park. Specifically important to the opposition to this idea was Shirley Hayes, who made the demand that the committee was not negotiating for “better roads”, but rather fighting for a ban of any traffic coming through the park as well as a resistance for the widening of all roads around the park (page 77). In my opinion, these put forth demands are almost a turning point in the development of Robert Moses’ ideas in NYC. These activists made it clear that the safety and character of the neighborhood, particularly the undisturbed existence of Washington Square Park was a bigger priority for the people than the issues of too much traffic and congestion, which Moses saw as a priority. At this point, there was a redefinition of urban success by the locals, which was vastly different than Moses’ idea. The second photograph gives a more detailed transformation of Washington Square Park, showing a visual of the original park followed by Moses’ version with roads built into the middle of it. Interestingly, to fix the oil crisis, this image predicts that the park would be blanketed, meaning that greenery would be placed above the roads in an effort to rescind the crisis.

The second picture shown on the bottom visual demonstrates another potential consequence of Moses’ New York: the transformation of another neighborhood, present day Soho. The visual portrays what the neighborhood would look like if Moses’ plans to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway would’ve went through. Again, this change was heavily protested and Moses’ wide plans to build this expressway were canceled. However, it is interesting to note what the neighborhood would look like had present day NYC been Moses’ ideal city. Furthermore, the building of the promenade as shown would be yet another effort to make a greener NYC and rescind crises like the oil crisis. Ultimately, I found these visuals extremely interesting and thought provoking in terms of what consequences Moses really had on our city and what potential consequences he could’ve had if he went unchallenged. This also gives us a better perspective to form a final opinion on the question I posed in the beginning regarding whether his impacts were positive or negative. Most importantly, these visuals allows for a clear comparison of present-day NYC and Moses’ potential NYC, which indirectly highlights all the real impacts Moses had on the city we see today.

*Note citation pages are given from the pdf pages, not the actual book
Source of maps: x

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