(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Moses

“By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities”*…

Concept renderings of Robert Moses’ proposed LOMEX (Lower Manhattan Expressway), drawing by Paul Rudolph. Courtesy of Library of Congress

… yes, but in what, Christopher Moon-Miklaucic asks, does that wisdom inhere?

The [Robert] Moses and [Jane] Jacobs debate begins as a disagreement over the future of New York City but ends up becoming a much larger representation of two divergent views of the fate of cities. If Jacobs saw in cities, life, diversity, and complexity, Moses saw infrastructure, efficiency, and the act of building. Robert Caro famously dubbed him the “Power Broker”, symbolizing a top-down, large-scale approach to planning, while Jacobs was seen as the “eye on the street”, in many ways epitomizing a much smaller-scale reading of the city as viewed from the handlebars of her bicycle. Despite looking at the city from different angles, and offering wildly different solutions to improving city life, both Jacobs and Moses were ultimately critics of utopian planners such as Ebenezer Howard, Daniel Burnham, Le Corbusier and other “order obsessed” types. Unsurprisingly, planners have long been fascinated by these two characters, who have been simultaneously celebrated and polarizing. Their disagreements have often served as a proxy of both the power and importance of citizen participation, but also its striking limitations. Today, the debate is being reassessed because despite the romantic allure of Jacobs, the efficiency of the planning process and its ability to strive for change while taking into account a wide variety of needs is still in question, and a longing for Moses’ adept ability to navigate bureaucracies seems to be resurfacing…

[The author unpacks the history of the disagreement, and unpacks the duelling principles/imperatives at work on each side…]

…It might be too simple to say that Jacobs’ view was ethically and morally correct. Clearly, planners should strive to ensure that the will of the people is represented adequately and equally in the plans put forth by developers and local governments. The issue, though, is that Jacobs criticized city planning, but not the “big economic and social forces” that originated many of the projects she opposed. In other words, Moses wasn’t completely alone in his undertaking to shape New York City. There were powerful vested interests behind his actions as well, and his accomplishment was the ability to “get things done” in a manner that most wouldn’t expect of municipal government. If planning is often criticized for being too slow, and even when communities are involved the equity results remain suboptimal, Moses seems to represent an alternative, more efficient approach.

Skepticism of a perfunctory model of citizen participation, which still often rests in procedural and consultative arrangements, may be the reason behind the rehabilitation of Moses and the shifting of the narrative underlying the debate. Perhaps within a context of an ever-changing world that is obsessed with instant gratification, Moses as “America’s greatest builder” is seen as the type of planner needed in order to quickly and efficiently improve current conditions, whereas Jacobs is seen as the “champion of stasis”, content with the status quo and seeking to stifle inevitable change and progress. To some, the Jacobean ideology of community-based planning might represent a decline in the authority and influence of the planner, leading to a nostalgic longing for the golden age of Moses, when planners were considered masters of their domain and free from the bureaucratic shackles that often limit large-scale developments.

Ultimately, the Moses and Jacobs debate remains relevant to planners today because it serves as a proxy for the power and limitations of citizen participation. If the planning sphere often links Jacobs’ life and work to a recently emerging style of communicative action planning, the criticisms of the approach are part of the reason Moses’ legacy is being rewritten. To some, Jacobs’ ideologies have led to a style of city planning that is too cautious and self-reflective, and Moses’ top-down methods symbolize planning that asserts itself in order to focus less on process and more on outcomes. If not slightly alarming, this shift in narrative should lead the planning profession to ask itself a difficult question which lurks within the shadows of this debate: what do we value more, the effects planning decisions have on communities and people, or the physical act of building and getting things done?

A half-century-old debate about New York City’s urban development continues to evoke a multitude of controversies in planning: “Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, and the Ever-Changing Role of the Planner,” from @chris_moonm in @TDocumentarian.

* Socrates

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As we ponder planning, we might that it was on this date in 1781 that El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (“The town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels”; in common use, Pueblo de los Ángeles) was settled. By the 20th century it became known simply as Los Angeles.

A map situating the original settlement in more modern Los Angeles

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 4, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Just remember, turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamn page”*…

The remarkable Robert Caro– the author of The Power Broker (a biography of Robert Moses) and the four (of five planned) volumes on the life and work of Lyndon Johnson– has won nearly every literary honor, among them the Pulitzer Prize for biography (twice); the National Book Critics Circle Award (three times); the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and the National Humanities Medal, (given to him in 2010 by a big fan, President Barack Obama). He is even a “living landmark,” according to the New York Landmarks Conservancy. So his archives and papers are sure to be a treasure trove…

Early last year the New-York Historical Society arranged to acquire Mr. Caro’s substantial archives, including the files for his Johnson masterwork and for “The Power Broker,” which examined how one unelected official, Robert Moses, used his political wiles to reshape the New York metropolitan region.

But as Ms. Bach, a curator for the society, would learn, the Caro records extend much deeper into the past — back to when he was a young newspaper reporter — revealing hints of the compassionate rigor that would one day earn the writer international acclaim…

So much of Mr. Caro’s research never made the page. For example, he interviewed all the key aides to Fiorello La Guardia, who served as New York’s mayor from 1934 to 1945. Yet only a minuscule fraction of that research appeared in “The Power Broker.”

This is one reason he wanted the archives to be accessible to the public. The unpublished materials extend well beyond Moses and Johnson to encompass much of American life over the last century, from the streets of New York City to the rutted roads of the Texas Hill Country — to the marbled halls of the United States Senate.

“Years of observation,” he said, by which he meant more than a half-century…

Robert Caro’s notes and files move into an archive: “What We Found in Robert Caro’s Yellowed Files.”

* Robert Caro, quoting an early mentor, Alan Hathway (managing editor at Newsday, Caro’s first reporting gig)

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As we do the work, we might send thoroughly-researched birthday greetings to Samuel Hopkins Adams; he was born on this date in 1871. A investigative journalist, he began his career at the New York Sun, then McClure’s (where he was a colleague of fellow muckrackers Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. But it was at Collier‘s that he had his biggest impact– probably most notably his expose on patent medicines, a series of 11 articles that led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Adams also wrote fiction. His most popular work in his own time was Revelry (1926), based on the scandals of the Harding administration. (He followed it with Incredible Era [1939], a biography of Harding.) But perhaps his most enduring piece of fiction was the magazine story “Night Bus” (1933), which became the basis for the marvelous 1934 film It Happened One Night. A man of many enthusiasms, he also wrote other biographies, (largely historical) non-fiction, and even “risque” novels…

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