Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses

In a recent New Yorker Paul Goldberger writes an article entitled Eminent Dominion: Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses. In it, Goldberger argues that Robert Moses, while he often couldn’t care less about the effects of his projects (such as destruction of organically grown neighborhoods), did bring a number of positive things to New York City, such as the Triborough Bridge, for one. He also shows Moses as a product of his time-period, and that even with his embrace of the highway, “New York  probably comes closer to having a workable  balance between cars and mass transit than any other city in the country”.

Goldberger also recognizes that in today’s bureaucratically gridlocked environment, having a single person enforce their vision can have its benefits:

In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree. It may not have been democratic, or even right. Still, somebody has to look at the big picture and make decisions for the greater good. Moses’s problem was that he couldn’t take his eye off the big picture. He was so in tune with New York’s vastness that he had no patience for anything small within it.

As Goldberger notes, a balance between Jane Jacobs’ embrace of the neighborhood and fine-grained approach to the city, and Robert Moses’s strong-man grandiose public works is something that has yet to be found.