Eyes On the Street

Within The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, we find ourselves immersed in the knowledge and history of streets most of us can call home. Heroine and Joan of Arc of Greenwich Village, Jane Jacobs vividly describes the important factors that distinctly outline the neighborhoods throughout New York, down to the nitty, gritty sidewalk below our feet.

While Jacobs viewed New York City neighborhoods from a holistic view, taking on the policies and past events that governed the streets, Mitchell Duneier approached one neighborhood, in particular, Greenwich Village, in order to uncover a specific aspect of neighborhood life through a series of interviews. In his ethnography and documentary, Sidewalk, Duneier observed the African American men who filled the streets of Greenwich Village in the 1990s selling books and magazines. Duneier drew upon the idea of the sidewalk being “the site where a sense of mutual support must be felt among strangers” in order to live together and that it should be an area of limitations and intimacy between the inhabitants (Duneier, 55).

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Rebuilding from “Inside-Out”

In Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs discusses the creation of public life and trust through the use of sidewalks and the common ignorance of “outsiders” or orthodox planners.  Jacobs’ uses Bostons North End as an epitome of a neighborhood that is self-functioning yet still considered a “slum” in the expert terms of bankers and developers.  Similarly, New York City’s Brownsville is commonly misconceived by outsiders and its image tarnished through untelling statistics.  In WNYC’s ongoing feature Brownsville: No Label Necessary, the members of the Brownsville community have commited to rebuilding Brownsville from “the inside out” using public life and trust created within a community to create what Jane Jacobs calls a, “self-governing” neighborhood.

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Robert Moses Vs. Jane Jacobs: The David-Goliath Dynamic

Jane Jacobs, in her novel The Death and Life of Great American Cities, describes a monotonous ‘new’ New York City, stripped of its former vitality by pedantic urban planners, who are unable to consider the rich network that keeps these neighborhoods thriving. As a woman of the West Village herself, Jacobs is part of the world she describes, and in stark contrast to Robert Moses, she argues for a city for the pedestrian. Jacobs’ position opposed that of Moses’ so much so that I wondered how they would react should they find themselves on the same battlefield. It turns out they had been on the same turf, fighting on opposing sides. The PBS documentary Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses: Urban Fight of the Century illustrates the interactions of the two well—from the clash between their policies, to the David-Goliath dynamic to which the two are compared.

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The Development of Cities and The Needs of Residents

In Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the author discusses how cities form and criticizes the way in which cities evolve and change. In her work, Jacobs describes how cities, and especially certain neighborhoods within cities, are unable to provide for the needs of its people, which should be the primary focus of cities. She looks to the neighborhood of North End in Boston and Harlem in New York City as examples. Jacobs explains that in North End, in the 1940s, there were rundown apartment buildings filled with poor immigrants from Italy that overcrowded the streets. However, when she returned twenty years later, buildings were rehabilitated and were less crowded and the streets and alleys were repaired and painted. The worst slum in Boston had turned into a safe and habitable neighborhood. Continue reading “The Development of Cities and The Needs of Residents”

Contrasting Views on Robert Moses, and His Impact on Staten Island

As we look around our city, and take in its grand structures and majesty, we can accredit much of it to Robert Moses, a 20th century “building maestro” who led expansions across all 5 boroughs, making a huge impact on its development. Although he has done a lot to build up our city, he’s also been known to be a pretty controversial figure. He is referred to as “the greatest builder in American history” but also as an “evil genius”. In ‘Robert Moses and the Rise of New York: The Power Broker in Perspective’ Kenneth T. Jackson goes on to defend Moses from many of the negative claims made by Robert A. Caro. He mentions that many of Moses’ accomplishments weren’t positively received at first, since they were seemingly too sacrificial of other things, until the benefits of his plans were reaped. Many people also blame him for things that weren’t his fault, but at the same time he is responsible for many harsh things, such as efforts to clear slums to make luxury apartments and medical and cultural centers, devastating lower income families (Jackson 69). As a Staten Islander, born and raised, I was curious as to how his work affected Staten Island, positively or negatively, how people received his ideas during his time and how it has been looked at in retrospect.

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Robert Moses: An Industrial Visionary or Ruthless Dictator

Robert Moses is seen by many as a revolutionary who changed the landscape of New York City with his conviction in his beliefs and a will to change the city for the betterment of the middle class. However his aggressive personality and powerful beliefs to apply his vision to the entirety of New York City came at the expense of many. Moses built bridges, highways, houses, and used Title 1 to create multiple expansive projects destroying slums and creating new modernized buildings in accordance with his vision. However the problem with Moses’ vision was that these new slums relocated massive amounts of people that originally lived in the already condensed area that was renovated. And with the increase in living prices associated with the projects Moses was building projects the lower classes could not afford even though the new areas for are built on property they previously had lived in. This led to a massive relocation of many poorer families leading to Moses gaining a dual perception as both a tenacious visionary and a inconsiderate uncultured dictator forcing his vision leading to large scale movements of people form their homes.

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Real Life in New York’s Public Housing

One of Robert Moses’ main three goals was to build affordable housing to bring the middle class back into the city. He wanted to avoid a divided city of the rich and the poor. This left people in the lower classes stuck in “new slums” or public housing. Those who are in the lower class are also disproportionately people of color. Not only are people of color driven into less than desirable housing situations by their incomes, but also by Robert Moses himself. Moses believed “‘Negroes and whites don’t mix” and that allowing people of color to live in the same neighborhoods as white people would decrease the value of all properties.

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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. Continue reading “Robert Moses and His Effects on New York”

Robert Moses’s Negative Impacts

Cities around the world must always work competitively to stay modern and draw more people and resources to them. This is especially true of cities such as New York City (NYC), which one of the top global cities, which is an important title. To stay in this position of power and importance, the city has to continue to be the first to new advances in areas such as technology, finance, and education. Another area a city must excel in is in its architecture and infrastructure. Transportation is also very significant.

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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.

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