Category: 2/23/2010
The Judgment of Robert Moses
| February 25, 2010 | 4:37 pm | 2/23/2010 | Comments closed

In class on Tuesday, a heated debate ensued between “Mighty Moses” and “Group A” over whether Robert Moses should be revered or condemned. In my opinion, the argument boiled down to one of progress over humanity. Do the ends justify the means? Is the progress made worth trampling all over certain people’s rights and livelihood?

“Mighty Moses” articulated several points that must be taken into consideration. First of all, he made New York City what it is today. He built playgrounds, parks, beaches (that were once virtually inaccessible to city residents), the Central Park Zoo, and Lincoln Center, just to name a few, and he rebuilt areas of the city, such as Randall’s Island to include well-known Icahn Stadium. He even “looked out for the common man” by adding bathroom stations in Central Park. This team argued that Moses was efficient, and that someone with his power and demeanor was necessary in order to make this much progress in such a small amount of time with such limited funds (since much of this occurred during the Great Depression, which gives him the added star of providing jobs to thousands). They stressed the need to focus on the benefits he brought to NYC in the long run for the majority. He got things done.

On the other hand, “Team A” argued that the means with which this progress came run contrary to the very values that the city stands for: democracy and equality. He completely disregarded the opinions of other, acting tyrannically. He did exactly what he wanted without considering the consequences or alternatives, focusing on the physical layout of the city while ignoring the social implications. As a quintessential example, the citizens of East Tremont demonstrated one community that was severely harmed by the actions of Moses. They were forced to relocate from their beloved apartments, although Moses did not provide them with any opportunities of equal standard housing, so that he could build a section of a highway. They provided an alternate route that would not only require the razing of no housing, but would save money. He pressed on with his plan, without reason, and they were removed. Even other great accomplishments of his are slightly tarnished. For instance, the rebuilding of Randall’s Island required the removal of a mental institution, displacing those people as well. He tore down a casino just to exact revenge on the owner. Though this team agreed that he got things done, they were skeptical that it was the only way possible; perhaps given time, the same things could have been accomplished in other ways.

I am inclined to agree with Group A. The example of East Tremont is only one of an unknown number of times Moses disregarded the well-being and the rights of NYC residents. Humanity and the livelihood of people should be valued over the construction of a piece of a highway or a zoo. Social consequences are just as important, if not more important, than the physical setup of a city. The ends did not justify the means.

February 23rd Readings
| February 23, 2010 | 2:07 pm | 2/23/2010 | Comments closed

Putnam, Arnstein, and Davidoff all discuss the essentials of neighborhood and community planning. Although there is a strong belief that there should be an increase in citizen participation when it concerns planning, the current trend has been a decline in social capital. Social capital, as defined by Putnam, refers to features of social organizations such as networks,norms, and social trust that facilitate  coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.

Robert Putnam states that virtually all measures of social engagement seem to grow weaker every year. Causes include social and geographic mobility, the decreasing importance of families as women join the workforce, and the technological transformation of leisure. These forces have risen to the level of social crisis and must be fixed to strengthen the connections between people.

There is a great importance of a strong and active society to the consolidation of democracy. The United States has been long considered as a model to emulate, playing a central role in systematic studies of the links between democracy and civil society. However American civil society has declined over the past several decades.

Examples include decline in turnout in national elections, decrease in people going to PTA meetings, and decrease in government trust. Although religious groups are the most common association membership among Americans, numbers have decreased here too.  Countertrends are also apparent: more Americans are joining tertiary groups like the Sierra Club and AARP, which do not have considerable signs of membership, aside from the checks or dues that are paid every once in a while.

Why this is happening includes an increase in mobility (which disrupts root systems), fewer marriages and children, and technology, specifically television. Americans spend more time watching television than many other things.

It is imperative to consider how to reverse these trends and restore civic engagement and civic trust.

Sherry Arnstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe various levels of citizen participation. She defines citizen participation as citizen power, and a redistribution of power in order to allow “have-not” citizens  to be included in political and economic processes. A French poster included in Arnstein’s essay illustrates what happens when there is participation of citizens but no redistribution of power: the status quo is maintained and only the people currently in power are benefitted. The two lowest forms of participation include manipulation and therapy.  These forms of participation are more suitably termed “nonparticipation,” since the masses are controlled by powerholders and simply provide a distortion in the number of participants. Informing and consultation are not that much better. In informing, information usually is unidirectional; from the powerholders to the masses. In consultation, it is not certain that the views of the masses will be taken into consideration by the powerful.  In the end, only people in the “delegated power” and “citizen control” rungs of the citizen participation latter have any real control over planning.

Arnstein’s “Ladder theory” is well illustrated by Caro’s “One Mile” story. In the section of the Bronx known as East Tremont, hundreds of people were relocated due to a plan by Robert Moses to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Moses believed that East Tremont was made up on tenements. The inhabitants of this location, many of which were of Eastern European and Jewish descent, and actually lived in tenements, disagreed. Although they tried to fight Moses in the construction of this area, they were ultimately overpowered. The fact that one man, one planner, had enough power to relocate people in fifty-four apartment buildings is just astounding.

Paul Davidoff (who once taught city planning students at Hunter!), makes an obvious argument: that different groups in society have different interests. This statement is on par with the one discussed in class last week, concerning the right of technocrats to make executive decisions in the planning of neighborhoods. It is clear that any decisions made by those technocrats will not impact them as much as the people that live in those specified areas. Davidoff argues that there should be planners that act as advocates for the poor and powerless, articulating their interests. Competing plans will ultimately be more effective, and well thought-out, than plans created by single planning agencies.  Planners may have a professional obligation to defend positions they oppose.  They may be well educated in certain functions of city government but not in others. Davidoff states that it may be hard to gain citizen participation in planning, especially since people usually react to agency programs rather than crate them. He suggests federal sponsorship of plural planning as a remedy to this potential problem.