Master planners

Sommer Mathis’s CityLab post on Robert Moses:

Today’s urban planners and thinkers have plenty of answers to Moses’s questions, but so too did the planners and thinkers of the time, notably Jacobs, who continues to enjoy a fervent following, despite several non-trivial shortcomings packed inside her theories around “social capital” and “eyes on the street” (the complexities of gentrification and displacement were unthinkable in the 1960s). What’s striking about Moses’s point of view in “Are Cities Dead?” is less that he’s baffled by those who would question his vision of a city of highways and towers, and more that the arguments he raises persist to this day. Moses may have been largely discredited by the late 1970s, but in the current era of gridlock and crumbling infrastructure, he’s lately been enjoying a modest rehabilitation—as a man with a formidable list of achievements and experiences, if also some terrible ideas.

New York today may still be in the midst of “moving … to correct [Moses’s] ravages,” as Caro put it in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. But it is also a city gripped by a housing affordability crisis of epic proportions. When Moses asks, toward the very end of the essay, “Have they an alternative to real-estate taxes?,” you almost wish he were still around to cajole city officials into coming up with a real plan.

In Robert Moses we’re able to see both the best and worst aspects of quasi-dictatorial power.

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