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July 29: Robert Moses

Lawrence Bush
July 28, 2016

MosesRobert Moses, the controversial and powerful city planner who transformed New York City in the mid-20th century, died at 92 on this date in 1981. Moses brought the United Nations headquarters to New York, built the campuses that hosted the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs, oversaw the building of the Triborough, Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Henry Hudson, and Verrazano Bridges, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, several Queens and Long Island highways, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Cross Bronx Expressway, Shea Stadium, Jones Beach, and Lincoln Center. Many of the projects he championed destroyed or disrupted neighborhoods and favored cars over public transportation (though Moses never had a driver's license). He also displayed racism in opposing allowing African-American veterans and their families to move into Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, residential apartment developments that he helped build. Moses simultaneously held twelve public posts (New York Parks Commissioner, chair of the Triborough Bridge Authority, etc.), though he held no elective office in his life, and he built numerous commissions that gave him oversight of millions of dollars in government funds. Several failures in his exercise of power in the 1960s -- for example, his opposition to Shakespeare in the Park and his support for the Lower Manhattan Expressway -- led to his loss of influence, and his reputation was put on ice by his biographer, Robert A. Caro, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Power Broker.

"When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax." --Robert Moses

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.