Mention one new detail that you learned from the documentary segment that none of your classmates have commented on previously.
I am an Associate Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY.
November 11, 2015
November 16, 2017 at 1:34 am
What I found to be most interesting in the documentary was the story of Robert Moses wanting to construct an 8 lane elevated highway across the entire length of lower Manhattan. In the area that is known today as the West Village, Moses was looking to demolish miles of land from the East River to the Hudson River, displacing 10,000 citizens in the destruction of their homes and businesses. Along with the demolition of established properties, Moses would have knocked down thousands of historical sites, nearly erasing the cultural context of lower Manhattan and all of its legacy. Moses believed that without sufficient forms of transportation, there was no such thing as a city. Every city needed transportation, and the best, most innovative and successful forms of transportation should belong in a city. This 8 lane highway was one of Moses’ biggest dreams and would have completely revolutionized the nature of New York City forever. By shredding through the heart of lower Manhattan, constructing 250-foot wide driving lanes, Moses would have essentially created a new city. With nothing along 14th street or anything in the area of the West and East Villages, the hotspots for New York’s art, music, and subculture would have either never existed, or simply pushed to somewhere else. On top of the disruption in culture, the highway also would have split downtown in half, creating a massive industrial barrier between communities, neighborhoods, and uptown life. If Moses’s plan were ever to come to fruition, the New York city we know today would never have existed.
November 18, 2017 at 6:04 pm
James Jacob and the preservation committee was in my opinion, a very important aspect in the development of New York City. Even today, NYC is seen as a hub, a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and ideas. The newest ideas and the most trendiest of fashions are born out of the city, and holds the idea of “out with the old, in with the new”. I feel like in this sense, Moses was a true New Yorker, the passion for innovation and improvement had him so caught up that in the long run, his contribution towards the city was pivotal in the technical development of the city. But what differentiates the city from likely any other city is that it’s not only a city. It’s not only a market place or a city of business, but it’s a unique spacial environment of history itself. The fact that those such as Jacob advocated for the preservation of buildings is the very reason why NYC is so beautiful with so many things to explore and experience.
It’s sad that some people like Moses could never really see this beauty. To him, NYC was a continuing project that would never be perfect. There would always be a new road to improve transportation, a new area where a building needed to be destroyed, something new that required less of the old. This cultural approach to the city also contributes to New York City as a whole (its buildings, its inhabitants, its culture), it is a place that welcomes all. “A man who never drove but who created an automobile circumstance… responsible for planning and building this enormous metropolis” really influenced my perspective of Moses and how despite how much of a New Yorker he was, he simultaneously wasn’t a New Yorker. He saw only one side of the city, the new side, the improvement, the modern movement. He would never come to appreciate the diversity of people and culture that made the city a timeless melting pot, which ultimately encouraged the citizens of the city to again unite together under one purpose of preserving its city’s past.
November 19, 2017 at 1:59 am
Something that I learned after watching the documentary was the deteriorating condition of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. There was a huge financial crisis brought on by borrowing too much money and not being able to sustain the standard of living that people were used to. Schools were starting to decline while crime rates started to rise. There were buildings in the Bronx that were so run down that land lords actually started burning them down. This is because they could collect more money from insurance than from a depreciating asset that needed constant refinancing. By 1973, more than two thousand city blocks had been burned down and the Bronx became a symbol of urban decline. They couldn’t get people to move in so burning the buildings down were the only way to make money. New York City had started to accumulate debt in billions and the city spiraled down rapidly. Eventually, banks had even refused to let the city borrow any more money until they were paid back. I found this time in New York City startling since it basically rivaled the dark times brought about by the Depression in the 1930s and there was essentially no hope left for recovery.
November 19, 2017 at 2:44 pm
I learned that Jane Jacobs was one of the first people that rose in opposition to Robert Moses’ plans of construction in New York City. She created organized protests in Greenwich Village on behalf of the housing crisis. People came together and formed coalitions in order to generate power to fight for a stance throughout the 50s and 60s. They bound together to fight the impacts of cars and vast roadways. Jacobs was the head of the coalition; she was arrested for causing riots, but public support for her efforts rose drastically. The battle over the lower Manhattan highway came to a peak in 1962. In city hall, a meeting took place in which protestors met with board members to appeal the implementation of the expressway- with Jane Jacobs leading the fight against Moses’ plan. Moses had successfully bridged Long Island and Manhattan, however his plan to build through lower Manhattan would ruin the city life, thus people fought back with slogans such as “city told to aid people, not cars”. The people of the inner city fought the huge project in order to fight for their existing way of life, and ultimately Jane Jacobs’ efforts prevailed. The proposal for the expressway was beat down, which helped preserve the way of life in the city that we currently take for granted. The beauty and thriving life of lower Manhattan is not overrun by highways and roadways, but rather, serves the needs of the people who live and travel there.
November 19, 2017 at 6:41 pm
Despite the destruction of buildings, economic crisis, and racial tensions in the post war period, New York City was able to steadily regain stability. After being warned by his financial advisors that NYC was the heart of the nation’s economy, Gerald Ford, the president of the United States, agreed to provide NYC with a loan guarantee. This prevented NYC from entering a state of financial default, which would ultimately impact the nation’s economy as a whole. Under his orders, government officials began to take action. By 1981, they were able to repay some of the city’s unresolved loans, cut off unnecessary public services, and balance the city’s budget. In the end, this was win-win situation for both the city and federal government. Not only did it put the city’s plans almost 1 year ahead of schedule, but the U.S. Treasury was able to make millions of dollars profit from this deal. Looking back at the history of New York City, it is impressive how this city’s journey is like a never ending roller coaster ride. From mass production to depression, segregation to ethnic and cultural diversity, NYC has faced severe social, economic, and political turmoil. Yet, in the end, the city always manages to rise from its ashes and give its people remarkable and endless opportunities.
November 21, 2017 at 11:56 pm
One new detail that I learned about from watching the documentary segment was the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Mayor Robert Wagner signed it into law on April 19th, 1965. It was created thanks in part to the efforts of Jane Jacobs and other public advocates who had opposed the 8-lane highway that Robert Moses wanted to construct through lower Manhattan.
Although it came two years too late to save Penn Station, the commission helped to save hundreds of buildings across New York City from demolition. It also helped to save and preserve entire districts across the city such as Brooklyn Heights, Greenwich Village, and SoHo. The creation of the commission played a major role in preventing the destruction of historic neighborhoods and the displacement of thousands of people that would have resulted from major development in the city. It helped to prevent future attempts to destroy parts of the city just as Robert Moses had attempted to do with his highway proposal.
November 25, 2017 at 5:33 pm
What I found to be the most interesting was the housing situation in the city during the 1960’s and 1970’s. People believed that during this time, suburbs were the way of the future, because the city was on a steady decline. Money was sucked out of NYC for defense in the Vietnam War and there was a financial crisis that further led to the decline. However, the most interesting part were the burning buildings. Every night there were fires in the Bronx and this had something to do with redlining. The documentary did not go too in depth about it, however, I did my own research. Redlining is practice of limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods due to racial/ethnic composition. Thus, people felt unfair treatment and the buildings could not be fixed up but they could be fixed down. As a result, by 1973 more than more than 43,000 apartments were destroyed and Bronx became a symbol of urban decline. These burning buildings reminded me of the show “The Get Down” on Netflix. The storyline takes place in the Bronx and follows a group of aspiring performers in the Bronx neighborhood. However, between scene changes the series was sure to point out the financial decline of the neighborhood.
November 25, 2017 at 11:28 pm
An interesting and new detail that I have learned from watching this segment of the documentary was the idea and image that Robert Moses’ contained for the city of New York. Quoting an audio of Robert Moses’ from the documentary, he stated, “we simply repeat, cities are created by and for traffic. A city without traffic is a ghost-town. The area between Canal Street and 3rd street … is the most depressed area in lower Manhattan. And one of the worst, if not the worst slums in the entire city.” Robert Moses believed in great highway/road industrialization in order to lead to great business fortune and possible success. By the early 1960’s Robert Moses’ brilliant and elaborate road/highway plan was finally complete, after being laid out over 3 decades prior. Tremendously long distances, specifically hundreds of miles of parkways and highways were finalized and completed in order to connect the great city of New York to the suburban regions of Long Island and beyond through the use of bridges and tunnels. Moses himself designed hundreds of more miles to run through the sub-boroughs of New York to create more possible roaming space for cars and potential business and success. Due to the potential for business success and fortune Robert Moses’ saw possible within New York through his vision of the use of highways and roads intended for traffic, the city would have never been the same way it is today without Robert Moses.
November 26, 2017 at 9:51 pm
What I found so interesting about this segment of the documentary was how Robert Moses’s proposal of a highway that would be constructed through Manhattan was so deeply resented and protested against by New Yorkers. Moses proposed the concept of an eight-lane, elevated highway that would cut across lower Manhattan, in what is known as the Cast Iron District. To achieve this dream, Robert Moses would have had to bulldoze a bustling urban area which he termed a slum and displace thousands of New Yorkers. However, after a similar concept was initiated in the Bronx, a group of New Yorkers from the West Village decided to band together in order to protest the concept of the highway. Led by Jane Jacobs, the group argued the influx of the automobile into highways rather than streets would lead to a decline in the bustle of the urban area and thus take away from the city’s economy. The group held rallies and protested the urban planning concept considerably. Urban renewal would destroy the neighborhoods and the small businesses that were present throughout these neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs shifted the focus from big city renewal plans to the individuals impacted by these plans. Thus, it was because of the empathy that Jacobs created for the individuals in these neighborhoods that there was such a significant effect on Robert Moses’s proposal.
November 26, 2017 at 9:57 pm
One thing that I learned from the documentary was the importance of Jane Jacobs in the history of New York City. I had never before even heard of her name, let alone her contributions to the City that can be felt today. She took on the orthodoxies of planning head on and fought for the renewal of the idea of the City. She wrote in her1961 book about the failures of the planners of the time. She described the rebuilding that the people were doing at the time as a ransacking. Those rebuilders did not care for the City or its people. It cared for models and blueprints and potential. Jane Jacobs made people turn towards the street instead of the models. True urban renewal did not lie in destroying the smaller buildings, the small stores, and the tight-knit pockets of neighborhoods. The definition of urbanism and what New York City should really be about was completely changed from the wide view of outward land growth and constant rebuilding to a closer vision of individuals, shops, streets, cars, crosswalks, and networks of people rich and poor. With the release of her book, she allowed the people of New York City to see the City from her block and subsequently to see it from every other block in the City. There is a sense of sympathy that radiates from Jacobs’s writing for the ideas of unity and cohesion that the City used to represent. There is a call then to older times, times when there was no looming threat of a highway coming and destroying the communities of the City. She had already seen this in the preceding decade. Entire communities had their places of living renewed and rebuilt and run through with highways and the result was turmoil for everyone involved. The communities fell to disaster and crime and the City suffered. It was as if the communities were bubbles in a glass of sparkling water and every time the City was stirred by urban renewal, old bubble would burst and new ones would form but even when the stirring utensil was removed, the water still moved uncontrollably and chaotically. Thus, what Jane Jacobs was essentially calling for was a renewal of the idea that the City remain the way it is in order to let it settle and let the communities of the City grow and change within themselves, not as forced by constant new highways and destructive “construction” projects.
November 27, 2017 at 8:32 pm
I didn’t know how many fires had happened in the Bronx during the 60s and 70s and that most of the Bronx today doesn’t have most of the buildings from 50-60 years ago. NYC still has buildings even older than that. The economic decline that the country was experiencing from the Vietnam war, as well as many other things, made the city and surrounding boroughs begin to decline as well, and at an even faster rate. Mayor Lindsey continued to borrow money in order to keep the city running their well-known public programs and used money that was supposed to be used for capital projects to pay back those loans and he borrowed even more to pay for those, and as a result, the debt kept piling up. Eventually, the banks that had been keeping NYC afloat cut off New York’s borrowing privileges until New York became financially stable. New York then requested help from the federal government. The president at the time thought that this decline would help NYC become better later on and so there was no federal aid given to NYC. It was, in a way, to teach NYC to fix itself.
November 27, 2017 at 10:22 pm
New York was able to reinvent itself after the 20th century. The documentary states that the main reasons why New York City was able to do this was because of its opportunities, immigration flow, business spirit to succeed and its adaptability. This brought an environment similar to that of the Roaring Twenties. More jobs were being created and smaller businesses were starting up again. This provided opportunities and boosted the economy. Immigrants continued to flow and NYC became a port for people from all over the world. The city gave them the opportunity to connect and communicate with each other. However, this transformation created new questions and issues that we do not have the answers to yet.
One of the interesting points that a historian makes is how long can the people from different social or ethnic groups get along with each other before they begin to break the stable relationship that they have. Throughout history, different groups have argued and fought to create a hierarchy to display a sign of superiority and inferiority. Despite their arguments and differences, the groups still manage to coexist and even provide support for each other.
November 28, 2017 at 1:19 am
I never knew that New York City experienced such a detrimental post-war decline that it was on the brink of dying out. In the 70s, the financial crisis was alarming. The NYC government had an accumulating debt of $11 million, and everyone was beginning to doubt the stability of the city. With a large portion of the city in ruins (the fires in South Harlem) and people moving out to suburbs, the New Deal effect was wearing off. The banks began to shut out the NYC government, refusing to loan them money until they paid their debt. Even the President of the United States, Gerald Ford, denied requests for a federal loan. The NYC headline read, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” The people even agreed; large populations were already moving out to New Jersey, Westchester, and the island. New York City was experiencing like a second Depression, pushing on bankruptcy. But once again, New York City lived and began to even thrive. The people were reinvigorated to work, Ford finally agreed to give a loan, and the city financial system was able to fix the fiscal plan and balance the loans within a year. Out of this, came the success and wealth that we’re familiar with today. To get to this point, we had to reach that all time low. It’s remarkable to see how New York City survived and even pushed on to thrive past such a tremendous hurdle.
November 28, 2017 at 2:26 am
One interesting fact I learned about New York City that I learned from this documentary was that one time, the city was living beyond its financial capabilities. It had to borrow money in order to continue operating minimally. By 1975, the city was borrowing more than two billion dollars a year in order to pay back its debts. While critics thought the city was going to be crushed by its financial handicaps, politicians assured citizens that New York City will thrive. However, there came a day when the major financial institutions in New York City refused to let the city borrow anymore money until they had their finances in order. I found this fascinating because I didn’t think banks would ever turn their backs on the city in which they resided in its time of need. However, I do agrees with their decision as anyone, whether it is a common man, a politician, or the city itself, will spiral downward into debt and interest payments if it continues to borrow for an extended period of time.
November 28, 2017 at 9:34 am
One thing I took away from this segment of the New York City documentary that I hadn’t though about before was the state of New York City during the 1950s and 1960s. Since people were beginning to move out to the suburbs, the cities were taken less care of. It was a time of fiscal crisis for the country because the United States was spending its money on defense and Vietnam. Since less attention was being paid to New York and other American cities, the crime rate soared, educational systems began to deteriorate, and neighborhoods were being abandoned. In many cases, business owners in the Bronx and on the Lower East Side would set fire to their storefronts in order to make returns from insurance. It is said that there was a fire in the Bronx almost every night during this time period. By the early 1970s, the future of New York City was unclear as it continued to be neglected as the suburbs were the nation’s new focus.
November 28, 2017 at 11:02 pm
One interesting fact I learned when watching this documentary was how the 60s and 70s were a time of fiscal crisis. Money was sucked out of cities, schools declined, and crime rate dramatically increased. There were fires every night in the Bronx. During the 1970s, the “city [had] begun to spiral down into an abyss of urban chaos and despair almost without precedent in American history.” People began to suggest it had to do with the landlords and the fact that you could collect more money on insurance than you could collect in grant on buildings that were old and needed constant refinancing. In 1973, more than 2,000 city blocks had been burned down and more than 42,000 apartments had been destroyed. The South Bronx was recognized as a symbol around the world of urban decline. Several neighborhoods were abandoned during this time.Fires would be set to storefronts in order to make money from insurance.
November 29, 2017 at 1:56 am
What I found most interesting about this segment of the documentary was its description of the decline of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. When John Linsdey became mayor in 1966, he promised the city a fresh start. However, from the very first days of his term, the city teemed with conflict, starting with a series of strikes by the municipal workers of the city (some of the most underpaid workers in New York), which brought the entire public transportation system to a halt.
In essence, the New York City of the 1960’s and 1970’s embodied the decades’ affect on the entire nation. The civil rights movement raised many questions about the nature of power and and the ethics and rights associated with access to power. There also occurred an economic shift, as the Vietnam War led to deficit spending, which was a major blow to the economy. The city experienced a very quick shift from an era of promise to an era of devastation, where poverty, complaints, and the crumbling of buildings showed a sudden, severe decline.
Meanwhile, the suburbs were booming: many people were moving out of cities, following lower labour costs and different opportunities. The 60s and 70s were very bad for cities, as it seemed that suburbs were the way of the future. It seemed that people would quickly leave the business of cities for large homes, cars, and corporate office parks. It is interesting to note that this seemed to be foreshadowed by Jacobs and her colleagues’ protests concerning an expressway on the lower east side.
In the 1970’s. New York City was truly in a financial crisis, perhaps partially due to its borrowing and living beyond its means, but also due to the war. Crime rates increased exponentially, police violence increased, and schools declined. After World War Two, New York City seemed to have emerged as the most powerful metropolis on earth. Now, the city was in a clear downward spiral into chaos. Neighbourhoods in the city began falling apart: the South Bronx was constantly burning, and saw a rise of arson. This was likely due to landlords being able to gain more from insurance than from renting out apartments in old buildings that were falling apart and needed constant repairs. Thus, it was easier for them to “fix buildings down,” instead of fixing them up. In fact, in the footage of the 1976 world series, a building was seen burning down a mere mile away from the game.
By 1977, over 2000 blocks had been burned down, and 43000 apartments destroyed. The South Bronx, a neighbourhood in a city that had mere decades ago seemed to be the most powerful in the world, became a global symbol of urban decay.
December 3, 2017 at 9:45 pm
Jane Jacob, an American journalist who wrote a book called “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which pinpointed the flaws of urban planning. She broke the city orthodox of what cities were after World War Two. She believed that people should continue to live in their brownstone houses where they had harmony with others in the neighborhood. She understood the unique urban economies. Many traditional urban planners wanted to restructure the streets and destroy the older buildings. It was noted in the video that Jane Jacob foreshadowed that placing people in private area rather than in shared spaces of the community; it will cause the greatest destruction of urban culture. She made people see the streets and understand the aesthetics of architecture. The value of rich and poor living closely together and building a bond was essential for the wellbeing together. Jacob was less concern will the industrial buildings of skyscrapers, but rather highly valued the beauty of the people and their lifestyles. There is an intricate link between each store, sidewalk, and wandering eyes of the city. In the 1960s, Jacob sparked a social awareness to understand the lives and living conditions of the people living in this urban culture. She had the vision to rebuild the shattered communities and to give people the opportunity to enjoy the smaller beauty in NYC.
December 18, 2017 at 6:36 am
A portion of the documentary that fascinated me was the way emotions and struggles manifested in various forms of creativity, such as visual art and music. New York City was going through a period of crisis and individuals still found methods of expression that could have either been catharsis or a means of communicating telling messages. Graffiti was particularly popular, and what may have been considered a form of destruction to public property by some were actually viewed as a harbinger of hope for the general public who were going through difficult times. The dreary, nondescript background of reality was juxtaposed by the vivid, harlequin mottos sprayed onto walls inciting optimism in its observers. Similarly, rap music was instrumental in both entertainment as well as the elucidation of adversities people endured, and remains a crucial medium of expression in the music industry to this day. Art persisted through trying times, and even the slightest shred of hope acquired from the visual and auditory demonstrations had been significant in the subsequent rise of New York City.
December 18, 2017 at 12:13 pm
What I found most interesting in the documentary was a detail mentioned in passing regarding activism in the city. The documentary mentions that Greenwich village had been the center of political activism in the city since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This detail got me thinking about how important much of that activism has, and how broadly it spanned through decades. The documentary mentions this in the context of Jane Jacob’s demonstrations against Robert Moses and his plans to build a highway. She protested his values and the inherent belief he held, that his money allowed him as an official of government to bypass the will of the people of New York in favor of his own projects. This battle of ideologies was ultimately won in Jacob’s favor and Moses was forced to abandon his plans. He had underestimated the experience and the organization that the people of the village had brought to the fight. This would again play out later in during the Gay Rights Movement, protests of during the 80s AIDS epidemic, and as recently as the student protests against tuition hikes. It’s interesting to trace Greenwich village’s history of activism, a theme which is still prevalent today.
December 25, 2017 at 11:36 am
I found it really interesting how stubborn Moses was in his dream of building a highway through the center of Manhattan. Some of his other plans were respected and well received but his plan to destroy parts of Greenwich village and the lifestyle and communities and streets and small shops of Manhattan was too much for the people of the City. The protest was lead by Jane Jacobs who wrote a book on the failures of urban planning and she stated that destroying the city by building an expressway through it would really destroy the lifestyle and the city itself. Her victory in stopping the expressway showed how the power of the people was greater than the power of cars and Moses.
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