“Master builder” Robert Moses–he of the 13 expressways that crisscross New York City–spent the 1970s living with his wife, Mary Grady Moses, in a three-bedroom co-op at 1 Gracie Terrace in Yorkville on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (h/t NYPost). We can see how the home’s sweeping river views would inspire the subject of Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” when pondering the conflicting issues of a complicated and changing city. The apartment is now for sale asking $1.95 million.
Robert Moses, the “master builder,” was arguably the most influential individual in the development of New York City’s politics and physical structure. He’s widely known for his hand in creating New York State’s massive parkway network (he built 13 expressways through NYC) and erecting large public housing complexes in low-scale neighborhoods (many of which were segregated), and has therefore been named as the source of many of the city’s gentrification and urban decline issues still present today. Regardless of this criticism, his breath of knowledge and experience was unparalleled (we can also thank him for Lincoln Center, Jones Beach, and countless public swimming pools) and is the subject of this 15-minute television program called Longines Chronoscope that aired in 1953, at the height of his heyday.
One of the most iconic battles to decide the fate of New York City was waged, in the 1950s and ’60s, by Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. He, a Parks Commissioner turned power broker, was known for his aggressive urban renewal projects, tearing tenements down to build higher, denser housing. She, often dismissed as a housewife, emerged as his most vocal critic—not to mention a skilled organizer with the ability to stop some of Moses’ most ambitious plans.
A new documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, takes a close look at the groundbreaking work of Jane Jacobs and its importance in our urbanizing world today. Matt Tyrnauer, the director behind Valentino: The Last Emperor, compiled footage of both Jacobs and Moses alongside 1950s and ’60s New York, which is paired with voiceovers of Marissa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio as the battling duo. Experts in urban planning—everyone from Paul Goldberger to Robert A.M. Stern—also discuss Jacobs’ massive influence on housing policy and urban planning, as the film makes a convincing argument that Jacobs’ planning philosophies are needed now more than ever.
A row of Quonset huts in Canarsie, via Brooklyn Public Library
When veterans returned to NYC from WWII, they were met with a Depression-era housing shortage that resulted from a nearly 15-year lack of new development. To immediately address the issue, “master builder” Robert Moses (who by this time was reigning over the city’s public housing projects) proposed erecting Quonset huts on vacant land in Brooklyn and Queens. These curved, corrugated steel “shacks” were used in the Pacific as barracks and offices, as they were lightweight and quick and easy to assemble. As the Brownstone Detectives tell us, after much debate, the city agreed to use more than 500 Federal surplus huts as temporary public housing on land along the Belt Parkway in the South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Canarsie and Jamaica Bay, as well as in Jackson Heights, Middle Village, and Corona in Queens.
With New York City’s population on its way to nine million, the city’s infrastructure may be impressive, but it has its limits–including red tape and resource shortages–that will make it difficult to withstand the projected surge. Reminding us of the transformative innovations of Robert Moses–he of the big ideas and ego to match–Crains invited 12 firms who make their living wrangling infrastructure to hit us with some big ideas. Ahead of the upcoming summit, “Getting Ready for 9 Million New Yorkers,” they’ve shared these visions for future (bigger, better) New York from top architects, designers and real estate experts. Ideas include some that have already proven themselves (repurposing existing track beds) and some already in the works (Bushwick’s Rheingold brewery project) to others that Robert Moses might not love (shrinking the city’s highways).
A new interactive New York City subway planning game created by electrical engineer Jason Wright gives you a chance to try your hand at building the subway system of your dreams. Though based on a similar idea to Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro, the game goes further and gives players a lot more to work with. “Brand New Subway” lets players start from scratch or use current subway maps, modify historic maps dating as far back as the 1900s or use maps from the future (like the planned 2025 subway system map pictured above) (h/t DNAinfo).
With baseball season back in swing this week, talk at some point turns to the heartbreak of losing the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. Modern Mechanix informs us that team owner Walter O’Malley had championed a Brooklyn dome stadium designed by Buckminster Fuller–and how the result is yet another reason to blame Robert Moses.
O’Malley took the team to Cali, if you’ll remember, because he got a better deal on land for a stadium–better than he was able to get in the five boroughs. He had wanted to keep the team in Brooklyn, but Ebbets Field was looking down-at-the-heels by then and bad for morale. In 1955 O’Malley wrote dome-obsessed architect Buckminster Fuller requesting a domed stadium design.
Image via NYU Local
It’s true: Washington Square Park was, in part, Washington Square parking lot. In the 1960s, at the peak of the nation’s car culture fixation, the Greenwich Village park was put into use as a parking lot, until cars were finally banished altogether in the 1970s, when the large circular plaza around the fountain was added. Some say the parking lot was an effort to keep hippies from gathering in the beloved public space.
If there’s one thing most people attribute to Robert Moses it’s highways. The master planner built 13 expressways throughout New York, including the Cross Bronx Expressway, Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the FDR Drive, and the West Side Highway. Love him or hate him, this was a pretty profound feat of urban planning. But had he been granted free rein, Moses would’ve constructed even more highways. The two failed attempts that remain most notorious are the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would’ve cut east-west along the residential areas of Broome Street, as well as a Mid-Manhattan Expressway, a proposed six-lane elevated highway along 30th Street.
After mapping these aforementioned Moses proposals, cartographer Andrew Lynch decided to take his project one step further and create a map series of all the never-built highways in NYC, both from Moses and others.
- Just in time for LGBT Pride Month, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is looking to designate the Stonewall Inn as a city landmark. [NYT]
- Looking back at the Theater District’s 1982 Broadway Massacre. [Ephemeral NY]
- A forthcoming, untitled opera will depict the feud between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. [NYO]
- This map uses NYPD data to show just how “mean” the streets of New York can be. [CityLab]
- Is this the ultimate beach umbrella? It digs into the sand and provides enough shelter for two beach chairs and a cooler. [Kinja Deals]
Images: Stonewall Inn (L); Robert Moses/Washington Square Park (R)