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February 07, 2007

« Creative careers | Main | Quote of the day »

New Yorker architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, weighs in on the ongoing remaking of  Robert Moses.

For a generation, the standard view of Robert Moses has been that he transformed New York but didn’t really make it better. ...The notion of Moses as the evil genius of mid-twentieth-century urban design got a boost last spring in obituaries of and tributes to Jane Jacobs, a longtime antagonist, who was instrumental in defeating one of his most outrageously wrongheaded schemes, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have destroyed much of SoHo. Almost every article about Jacobs included a swipe at Moses, whose arrogance and lack of interest in the texture of the city seemed a harsh contrast to Jacobs’s love of neighborhoods, streets, and, by implication, people.

Read the whole thing here.

But I'm not so sure Moses' reputation was ever really as tarnished as Goldberger and the last week's NY Times piece seem to imply.   Looking at the large volume of Robert Moses' material on the internet, I got the sense that he's been treated quite favorably.

  • The Wikipedia entry is quite balanced, and tends toward favorable.
  • Here is his New York Times obituary by Goldberger.
  • For afficiandos of this sort of thing, here is Moses' typed response to Caro's book.

Moses Have a look at this  google trends comparion of Moses (in blue) versus Jane Jacobs (in red).  There are some 681,000 hits for Moses, compared to 681,000 for Moses (I know, I know Chris Anderson.....).  If you look at the regional breakdowns, Moses is far ahead of Jacobs in the US, especially the New York region, while Jacobs does much better in Canada and the UK. 

I can't help but think, actually, that part of the whole Moses' rehabilitation is aimed at taking a back-hand swipe at Jacobs. Both the New Yorker and Times articles treat her as Moses' antagonist, "obstructionist"  neighborhood activist,  and advocate for "small-scale projects."

In reality she was much, much more than that. Her legacy extends far beyond Moses, Greenwich Village and New York City actually.  When asked what she would most like to be remembered for she said simply:  Her theory of diversity and economic development.  Moses used public money (undemocratically I might add) to build bridges and public works.  Jacobs was one of the twentieth centuries most important intellectuals,  developing a theory of cities and of economic development that continue to exert influence on leading scholars of economic growth, like Robert Lucas and Edward Glaeser who view  her work as path-breaking and of Nobel-prize caliber.


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