REVIEW | BOOKS :: WRESTLING WITH MOSES ::: JANE JACOBS VS. ROBERT MOSES

Screen shot 2009-10-18 at 19.01.04

Screen shot 2009-10-19 at 18.07.40

572px-Robert_Moses_with_Battery_Bridge_model

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

The morning after Jane Jacobs died, the owner of the Art of Cooking, the housewares store occupying 555 Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, went to unlock the door and open for business. She found bouquets of lilies and daisies on the doorstep, and an unsigned note: ‘From this house, in 1961, a housewife changed the world.’

– Anthony Flint, Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on America’s Master Planner and Transformed the American City, p. 195

What’s not to love about Jane Jacobs? She changed the way we view the city as place. Moreover, she was self-taught:

I had no credentials … so I set myself up as my own expert.

Photo credit: Maggie Steber, Planning Magazine, September 1986

SFU

Healthy Cities, Urban Theory, and Design: The Power of Jane Jacobs

As for Robert Moses, Robert Caro tore him to shreds in his opus, The Power Broker (1974).

200px-The_Power_Broker_book_cover

So, he was corrupt as hell. Flint concludes:

The man who had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects in New York State had less than $50,000 in assets when he died. His pursuit of power and eagerness to get things done clearly did not include the  goal of building his own personal wealth.

– Flint, p. 189

‘You can draw any kind of picture you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New   Delhi, Canberra, or Brasilia,’ he said, ‘but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.’

Robert Moses quoted in Flint, p. 53

The man gave New Yorkers thousands of hectares of new parks, including the “everyman’s country club,” Jones Beach.

Not to mention parkways. I love parkways! They’re part of my lost vision of the future. Gliding along watching the greenery go by in my autopilot vehicle. Nice. Of course, Moses was anti-public transit. The overpasses of his parkways were too low for buses.

long.span

180px-Robert_Moses_Pkwy_2001

1964 gm concept car color paleofuture

1966 shopping car2 paleo-future

The Runabout: the car of my future. I’m still waiting.

The 1966 book Automobiles of the Future features these images of General Motor’s Runabout concept car. Besides having three wheels it also features a built-in shopping cart that slides out of the trunk:

“Two views of the GM three-wheeled Runabout. This car of tomorrow is fitted with two shopping carts that make up the car’s trunk area. The experimental design has been operated with all-electronic controls in proving ground tests.”

(Digression: I just love the Web. Just now, I was visualizing the picture from my school days of my car of the future. I searched “car of the future” et voila! there it was. So thank you, Matt Novak, for posting it to your blog!)

BLOG:

PaleoFuture-newest-logo-sma

Moses was also a promulgator of a vision of the future. Without him, it is doubtful whether New York would have hosted its two world fairs (1939 and 1964-65). (Then again, that’s supposedly where the corruption began … )

NYFair1939

xlg_worlds_fair_00

BLOG: Modern Mechanix: Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today

Plus … he gave us Futuramas!

1futurama_img_1

BLOG: Design 1.0

futurama031

essential:

ESSENTIALVIEWINB

essential:

Screen shot 2009-10-23 at 11.11.58

Therefore, it’s somewhat difficult for a twentieth-century futurist like me to denigrate Moses completely.

In any event, Moses’s “legacy” seems to be have been forgotten in favour of Jacobs’s. This book goes a certain way towards redressing the balance and reminding us of just how intertwined they were at a pivotal movement in American history.

What is surprising about Wrestling With Moses is that this marks the first time that someone has had the smarts to pit these two towering figures of twentieth-century urban planning together in one book.

If you want a good primer on how Jacobs and The Death and Life of Great American Cities challenged the male-centric world of urban planning in the 1960s, this is your book.

Flint treats his two adversaries with even-handedness.

I also like how he deftly places Jacobs in the context of her early-sixties peers Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, Betty Friedan and other whistleblowers all who acted as early warning systems against a capitalist system running amok.

(The book’s photos are swell, too, and there’s a great one of Jane in jail with Susan Sontag after they’d been taken arrested at a protest against the Vietnam War.)

Jessica Sheridan

deathlifegreatuscities

23338-1

Book_Front-cover_Nader

FM

JANE JACOBS

ROBERT MOSES ON I-BEAM

JANE JACOBS PROTESTING

°

As for the “More Jane Jacobs Less Marc Jacobs” stickers and postcards, that’s another story.

What’s interesting about the whole thing is that Jacobs never foresaw that her enunciation of a new public policy toward the city as object would lead to that thing called gentrification.

That’s the irony of the end chapter of her life. She saved SoHo from Moses’s infamous Lomex (Lower Manhattan Expressway), only to have it become gentrified to death.

So now, there’s a new movement to save SoHo from Marc Jacobs. Just how many MJ stores does New York need, anyway?

JANE JACOB'S LEGACY

134951964_aab2f9c44d

Screen shot 2009-10-18 at 19.01.34

°

°

°

last word:

Complete Article from The Wall Street Journal

Advertisements