Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses and the Future of the American City

One of the blogs I check on a regular basis is The Edge of the American West. It features a variety of viewpoints, sharp writing, and intelligent discussions on history.  On the about page, the blog features the quote:  History is Philosophy teaching by example.

Today there’s a post on the site entitled “I hate the government for making my life absurd” – a quote from urban crusader and preservation heroine Jane Jacobs.

The writer is highlighting a new book on the relationship between Jacobs and the New York City power broker Robert Moses, which was featured in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Writing in the Times, reviewer Dwight Garner provides the background for the Wrestling With Moses:

Moses and Jacobs clashed during the 1950s and ’60s over three of the huge public works projects Moses tried to force on Manhattan. It is hard even to list them now without cringing — or nearly weeping with gratitude that they never came to pass.There was his plan to build a four-lane highway through the middle of Washington Square Park. Another project would have razed 14 blocks in the heart of Greenwich Village under the guise of urban renewal. There was also a plan to plunge a 10-lane elevated superhighway, to be called the Lower Manhattan Expressway, through SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Each of these projects is, from today’s vantage point, clearly insane; each would have had cataclysmic effects on the quality of life in Manhattan. But their flaws were less obvious to many at the time. It took an accidental activist, Jacobs, and her ability to marshal popular support and political will, to stop them. The battles over all three projects form the spine of “Wrestling With Moses.”

As The Edge of the American West says so well, “…if you’ve never read Jacobs, and you like cities at all, you should rush right out to the library.”

More to come…

DJB


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