Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City
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The rivalry of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, a struggle for the soul of a city, is one of the most dramatic and consequential in modern American history. To a young Jane Jacobs, Greenwich Village, with its winding cobblestone streets and diverse makeup, was everything a city neighborhood should be. But consummate power broker Robert Moses, the father of many of New York’s most monumental development projects, thought neighborhoods like Greenwich Village were badly in need of “urban renewal.” Standing up against government plans for the city, Jacobs marshaled popular support and political power against Moses, whether to block traffic through her beloved Washington Square Park or to prevent the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, an elevated superhighway that would have destroyed centuries-old streetscapes and displaced thousands of families. By confronting Moses and his vision, Jacobs forever changed the way Americans understood the city. Her story reminds us of the power we have as individuals to confront and defy reckless authority.
1952: the carriageway would be replaced with a north-south roadway of four lanes, two in each direction. The fountain would be eliminated. A roller rink would be installed on one side of the roadway and a new playground on the other. The model was Riverside Park, a long strip of green that ran along the Hudson on the West Side and was elegantly integrated with the off-ramps and free-flowing traffic lanes of the West Side Highway. Once and for all, traffic would be able to get through Washington
roadway, he thought, might make it less objectionable, without building a full-blown tunnel, an idea promoted by Anthony Dapolito, a neighborhood baker who would later become known as the mayor of Greenwich Village. Boring beneath the surface was a common strategy for moving traffic through urban environments, and one that had already been used in New York near Grand Central Station. But it would be expensive to dig under the park and build a platform of public space above. A gentle dip and a
learn a practical skill to fall back on. The degree from the Powell secretarial and stenography school in Scranton gave Jane enough of an edge in the barren job market that after months of searching, she finally landed a job as a secretary for a candy manufacturing company. She would serve in similar clerical positions at a clock maker and a drapery hardware business in the years that followed. In her off time, she worked toward her dream career, honing her journalistic skills. On those
from the International Longshoremen’s Association; the state would provide low-cost mortgages and tax incentives to the developers, under New York’s recently passed Mitchell-Lama housing act. Jacobs knew the importance of getting a good architect to design the scheme. But she quickly found that no New York firm would agree to do the work, because they were fearful of alienating New York City officialdom and losing out on lucrative projects. After much research and cajoling on Jacobs’s part, the
his perspective. Lindsay tried to differentiate himself from Moses, but Jacobs saw that the basic corridor was exactly the same. “The underground idea is better than the elevated highway proposal, but we don’t want to see any highway at all,” DeSalvio told a reporter for the Times. Even Lindsay’s attempts to create excitement by linking housing to the highway and promoting futuristic possibilities of air-rights development—one scheme by the architects Ulrich Franzen and Paul Rudolph called for a