Robert Moses and His Effects on New York

“When Moses yields, God must be near at hand” (Ballon and Jackson 75).  Robert Moses was a public official who organized and planned public works.  These included the Triborough bridge, Verrazano bridge, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and Lincoln Center.  Moses was known for his productive, persistent, and insensitive nature.  He was a powerful character that catalyzed change in New York’s layout for decades in the 20th century.  Moses was the chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance.  As chairman, he acted under Title 1 from 1949 to 1960.  Under this law, Moses gained New York $65.8 million to spend on removing slums (Ballon 16).  Moses and many urban planners believed that slums negatively affected a city as a whole since people did not have as many resources as they should and since the upkeep of the people in slums was greater than the taxes these people paid.  Moses used his position and his persistence to make deals with private companies to tear down and rebuild slums including housing and apartment buildings.  Moses and urban planners at this time believed that “large-scale clearance, replanning, and private redevelopment” was the only way to remove slums (Ballon 21).  In doing these large-scale projects, people in these areas had to be displaced.  As chairman, Moses was obligated to observe the movements of these people and he or the companies he worked with were to find the people housing in other areas.  However, Moses did not care much for these displaced people as he only cared about the city as a whole and not individual neighborhoods.  Usually, less than 15% of people who were displaced stayed in public housing and the average rent of these people increased greatly.  Also, new slums were being created from these displaced people who could not afford housing in prominent areas.  These people caused crowding in surrounding areas as well.  This lack of care and harsh treatment caused public backlash which Moses responded to, doubling down on his own principles, and mostly ignoring the cries of the people.

The photo below was taken of protesters against the demolition of housing near Lincoln Square.  

One sign reads “Culture belongs at home…no home no culture!”  This emphasized Moses’s lack of interest in the culture of the people, believing only in the movability of traffic in neighborhoods stating that “The city that achieves speed achieves success” (Fishman 78).  Another states “Title 1 Slum Clearance Makes Slums [and] clears people” exemplifying that moving the poor from a slum might improve an area, but can cause another area to degrade and cause little or no improvement in poor people’s lives.  Moses was known to be racist and famously worked with Met Life to reform an area to be only lived in by white people.  This caused a huge amount of outrage and caused minority groups of people such as Jewish and Black people to protest against Moses and his propensity for racist beliefs and actions.  When trying to put a highway through Washington Park, Moses also disregarded the quality of life for children.  Mothers in the area gathered and fought off Moses’s assault and ended up winning with Moses enraged.


Although Moses had many faults, New York as we know it would not exist without him.  Moses did many great things for New York such as increase university sizes, create cultural centers, and bridged our lives to those across the water to improve accessibility.  Moses was an arbiter of improvement, connectivity, movement, academia, and one of suffering, higher rents, and distress.  Moses was integral to New York’s history and his story and his effects on New York should be known and learned from.

Source for Picture

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