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Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the "master builder" of mid-20th century New York Citymarker, Long Islandmarker, and Westchester Countymarker, New Yorkmarker. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Parismarker, and is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. Although he never held elected office, Moses was arguably the most powerful person in New York state government from the 1930s to the 1950s. He changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Islandmarker and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.

Moses' projects were considered by many to be necessary for the region's development after being hit hard by the Great Depression. During the height of his powers, New York City participated in the construction of two huge World's Fairs: one in 1939 and the other in 1964. Moses was also in large part responsible for the United Nations' decision to headquarter in Manhattanmarker as opposed to Philadelphiamarker. His supporters believe he made the city viable for the 21st century by building an infrastructure that most people wanted and that has endured.

However, his works remain extremely controversial. His critics claim that he preferred automobiles to people, that he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City, uprooted traditional neighborhoods by building expressways through them, contributed to the ruin of the South Bronx and the amusement parks of Coney Islandmarker, caused the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants Major League baseball teams, and precipitated the decline of public transport through disinvestment and neglect.

His career is summed up by his sayings "Cities are for traffic" and "If the ends don't justify the means, what does?" His vast influence and patronage meant that projects were completed in a timely fashion , and many have been reliable public works ever since .

Early life and rise to power

Moses was born to assimilated German Jewish parents in New Haven, Connecticutmarker. He spent the first nine years of his life living at 83 Dwight Street in New Haven, two blocks from Yale University. In 1897, the Moses family moved to New York City, where they lived on East 46th Street off of Fifth Avenue. Moses' father was a successful department store owner and real estate speculator in New Haven. In order for the family to move to New York City, he sold his real estate holdings and store, and then retired from business for the rest of his life. Bella, his mother, was a forceful and brilliant woman, active in the settlement movement, with her own love of building.

After graduating from Yale Universitymarker and Wadham Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, and earning a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University, Moses became attracted to New York City reform politics. At this time a committed idealist, he developed several plans to rid New York of patronage hiring practices, including being the lead author of a 1919 proposal to reorganize the NY state government. None went very far, but Moses, due to his intelligence, caught the notice of Belle Moskowitz, a friend and trusted advisor to Al Smith.

Moses rose to power with Smith and set in motion a sweeping consolidation of the New York State government. This centralization allowed Smith to run a government later used as a model for Roosevelt's New Deal federal government. Moses also received numerous commissions that he carried out extraordinarily well, such as the development of Jones Beach State Parkmarker. Displaying a strong command of law as well as matters of engineering, Moses became known for his skill in drafting legislation, and was called "the best bill drafter in Albanymarker" . At a time when the public was used to Tammany Hall corruption and incompetence, Moses was seen as a savior of government. Shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration, the federal government found itself with millions of New Deal tax dollars to spend, yet states and cities had few projects ready. Moses was one of the few local officials who had projects planned and prepared. For that reason, New York City could count on Moses to deliver to it Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and other depression-era funding.


At one time, one quarter of Federal construction dollars were being spent in New York, and Moses had 80,000 people working under him . Although he built playgrounds in vast numbers, almost none of those were located in Harlemmarker. Similarly, the main aesthetic achievements of Riverside Drive and associated amenities were located south of 125th street, and a pattern of barriers to access for non-white citizens, whether steep stairs or busy highways, appears repeatedly in his public projects. Close associates of Moses claimed that they could keep African Americans from using pools in white neighborhoods by making the water too cold. He actively precluded the use of public transit that would have allowed the non-car-owners to enjoy the elaborate recreation facilities he built. After much litigation by private landowners, his highway projects on Long Islandmarker followed a circuitous path so as not to cross the properties of wealthy landowners such as J. P. Morgan, Jr., while those same highways demolished numerous working class neighborhoods throughout New York City.

During the Depression, however, Moses, along with Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, was responsible for the construction of ten gigantic pools under the WPA Program. Combined, they could accommodate 66,000 swimmers. This extensive social works program is sometimes attributed to the fact that Moses was an avid swimmer himself. One such a pool is McCarren Parkmarker Pool in Brooklynmarker, now dry and used only for special cultural events but scheduled for reconstruction starting in 2009.

Moses persuaded Governor Smith and the government of New York City to allow him to hold state and the city governments jobs simultaneously; at one point, he had 12 separate titles, maintaining four palatial offices across the city and Long Island, and actually holding control of all federal appropriations to New York City. For the city, he was Parks Commissioner, and for the state, he was President of the Long Island State Park Commission and Secretary of State of New York (1927–1928), as well as Chairman of the New York State Power Commission, responsible for building hydro-electric dams in the Niagara/St. Lawrence region.

During the 1920s, Moses sparred with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then head of the Taconic State Park Commission, who favored the prompt construction of a parkway through the Hudson Valley. Moses succeeded in diverting funds to his Long Island parkway projects (the Northern State Parkway, the Southern State Parkway and the Wantagh State Parkway), although the Taconic State Parkway was later completed as well. Moses is frequently given credit as the father of the New York State Parkway System from these projects.

As the head of many public authorities, Moses's title as chair gave his entities the flexibility associated with private enterprise, along with the tax-exempt debt capacity associated with government agencies. The inner workings of the authorities were free from public scrutiny, allowing money to be freely allocated to expenses a public government could not sustain. Contrary to his public image, Moses horse-traded and dealt out patronage extensively, building support from construction firms, investment banks, insurance companies, labor unions (and management), and real-estate developers. Calling on these vast reserves of power, Moses quickly developed a reputation for "getting things done" and used his influence to fast-track projects in legislators' home districts, a tactic for which these same lawmakers repaid him by granting money for ever more ambitious projects. He dealt out enough spoils to both political parties to ensure he avoided unwanted attention to his patronage politics.

In 1934, he ran on the Republican ticket for Governor of New York, but was routed by the incumbent Democrat Herbert H. Lehman.

Triborough Bridge

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Robert Moses had power over the construction of all public housing projects, but the one position above all others giving him political power was his chairmanship of the Triborough Bridge Authority.

The Triborough Bridgemarker (now officially the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge), a cluster of three separate spans, connects the Bronxmarker, Manhattanmarker, and Queensmarker. The legal structure of this particular public authority made it impervious to influence from mayors and governors, due to the language in the bond contracts and multi-year appointments of the Commissioners. While New York City and New York State were perpetually strapped for money, the bridge's toll revenues amounted to tens of millions of dollars a year. The agency was therefore capable of financing the borrowing of hundreds of millions of dollars, making Moses the only person in New York capable of funding large public construction projects. Toll revenues rose quickly, as traffic on the bridges exceeded all projections. Rather than pay off the bonds, Moses sought other toll projects to build, a cycle that fed on itself.

Brooklyn Battery Bridge

In the late 1930s a municipal controversy raged over whether an additional vehicular link between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan should be a bridge or a tunnel. Bridges can be wider and cheaper but tall ones use more ramp space at landfall than tunnels. A "Brooklyn Battery Bridge" would have destroyed Battery Parkmarker and physically encroached on the financial district. The bridge was opposed by the Regional Plan Association, historical preservationists, Wall Streetmarker financial interests and property owners, various high society people, construction unions (since a tunnel would give them more work), the Manhattan borough president, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and governor Herbert H. Lehman.

However, Moses favored a bridge. It could carry more automobile traffic than a tunnel and would also serve as a visible monument. More traffic meant more tolls, and more tolls meant more money and therefore more power for public improvements. LaGuardia and Lehman, as usual, had no money to spend and the federal government, by this point, felt it had given New York enough. Moses, because of his control of Triborough, had money to spend, and he decided his money could only be spent on a bridge. He also clashed with chief engineer of the project, Ole Singstad, who also preferred a tunnel in place of a bridge.

Only a lack of a key Federal approval thwarted the bridge scheme. President Roosevelt ordered the War Department to assert that a bridge in that location, if bombed, would block the East Rivermarker access to the Brooklyn Navy Yardmarker upstream. A dubious claim for a river already crossed by bridges, it nevertheless stopped Moses. In retaliation for being prevented from building his bridge, Moses dismantled the New York Aquariummarker that had been in Castle Clintonmarker and moved it to Coney Islandmarker in Brooklyn. He also attempted to raze Castle Clinton itself, on a variety of pretenses, and the historic fort's survival was assured only after ownership was transferred to the federal government.

Ending up, Moses was forced to settle for a tunnel connecting Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, now called the Brooklyn Battery Tunnelmarker. A 1941 publication from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority claimed that the government had forced them to build a tunnel at "twice the cost, twice the operating fees, twice the difficulty to engineer, and half the traffic," though actual engineering studies did not support this conclusion, and a tunnel actually may have held many of the advantages Moses publicly tried to attach to the bridge option.

Ultimately, this was not the first time that Moses tried to carry out the bridge option when a tunnel was already in progress. The same issue also occurred when the Queens-Midtown Tunnelmarker was being planned, in which he also clashed with Ole Singstad and tried to upstage the Tunnel Authority. For the same reasons, Moses also preferred a crossing, but with no luck since the bridge was not supported by many officials.

Post-war city planning

Moses' power increased after World War II, when, after the retirement of LaGuardia, a series of politically weak mayors consented to almost all of Moses' proposals. Named city "construction coordinator", in 1946, by Mayor William O'Dwyer, Moses also became the official representative of New York City in Washington, D.C.marker Moses was also now given powers over public housing that had eluded him under LaGuardia. Moses' power grew even more when O'Dwyer was forced to resign in disgrace and was succeeded by Vincent R. Impellitteri, who was more than content to allow Moses to exercise control over infrastructure projects from behind the scenes. One of Moses' first steps after Impellitteri took office was killing the development of a city-wide Comprehensive Zoning Plan, underway since 1938, that would have restrained his nearly uninhibited power to build within the city, and removing the existing Zoning Commissioner from power. Impellitteri enabled Moses in other ways, too. Moses was now the sole person authorized to negotiate in Washington for New York City projects. He could now remake New York for the automobile. By 1959, Moses had built 28,000 apartment units on hundreds of acres. Ironically, in clearing the land for high-rises in accordance with the tower in the park scheme, which at that time was seem as innovative and beneficial, he sometimes destroyed almost as many housing units as he built.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Robert Moses was responsible for the construction of the Throgs Neckmarker, the Bronx-Whitestonemarker, the Henry Hudson, and the Verrazano Narrowsmarker bridges. His other projects included the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Belt Parkway, the Laurelton Parkway, and many more. Federal interest had shifted from parkway to freeway systems, and the new roads mostly conformed to the new vision, lacking the landscaping or the commercial traffic restrictions of the pre-war ones. He was the mover behind Shea Stadiummarker and Lincoln Centermarker, and contributed to the United Nations headquartersmarker.

Moses had direct influence outside the New York area as well. City planners in many smaller American cities hired Moses to design freeway networks for them in the 1940s and early 1950s. Few of these were built; initially postponed for lack of funding, projects still unbuilt by the 1960s were often defeated by the awakening citizen-led opposition movement. The first successful examples of these freeway revolts were in New Orleansmarker. Original plans for Interstate 10 followed U.S. Route 90 through Uptown, but instead the Interstate through the western part of the city was routed along the Pontchartrain Expressway. Following that adjustment was the blocking of New Orleans' Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway, an elevated highway that would have sliced through the French Quartermarker, resulting in an even greater impact on the city's sense of history. Later, successful freeway revolts that saw highway projects either scaled back or cancelled outright also occurred in Portlandmarker, Oregonmarker (see Mount Hood Freeway and Harbor Drive), San Franciscomarker, San Diegomarker, Washington, D.C.marker, Baltimoremarker, Phoenixmarker, Memphis, Torontomarker, and eventually even Los Angelesmarker.

Car culture

Moses knew how to drive, but because he didn't have a license, many sources say that he didn't know how to drive. His view of the automobile was shaped by the 1920s, when the car was thought of as entertainment and not a utilitarian lifestyle. Moses' highways in the first half of the 20th century were parkways, curving, landscaped "ribbon parks," intended to be pleasures to drive in and "lungs for the city". While appearing utopian on its face, some critics contend Moses' vision of towers, cities and parks linked by cars and highways in practice led to the expansion of wholesale ghettos, decay, middle-class urban flight, and blight . Beginning in the 1960s and reaching a peak in the 1990s, public opinion and the ideals of many in the city planning profession shifted away from this strand of car-oriented thought .

Brooklyn Dodgers

Moses is viewed by many as the man directly responsible for the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angelesmarker . Dodger owner Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new stadium to replace the outdated and dilapidated Ebbets Fieldmarker. O'Malley determined the best site for the stadium was on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn at the end of the Long Island Rail Road. O'Malley pleaded with Moses to help him secure the property in a cost effective manner, but Moses wanted to use the land to build a parking garage. Moses envisioned New York's newest stadium in Flushing Meadowsmarker on the former (and as it turned out, future) site of the World's Fair in Queens. O'Malley was vehement in his opposition, but Moses would not be moved on this issue. After the Dodgers left for Los Angeles, and subsequently, the New York Giants to San Francisco, Moses was able to build Shea Stadiummarker in Queens on the site he planned for stadium development. Construction began in October 1961 and the stadium opened in April 1964 to house the National League's New York Mets.

End of the Moses era

Moses's reputation began to wane in the 1960s as public debate on urban planning began to focus on the virtues of intimate neighborhoods and smallness of scale. Around this time, Moses also started picking political battles he could not win. His campaign against the free Shakespeare in the Park received much negative publicity, and his effort to destroy a shaded playground in Central Parkmarker to make way for a parking lot for the expensive Tavern-on-the-Greenmarker restaurant made him many enemies among the middle-class voters of the Upper West Sidemarker.

The opposition reached a crescendo over the demolition of Penn Stationmarker, which many attributed to the "development scheme" mentality cultivated by Moses, although the impoverished Pennsylvania Railroad was actually responsible for the demolition. The casual destruction of one of New York's greatest architectural landmarks helped prompt many city residents to turn against Moses' plans to build a Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have gone through Greenwich Villagemarker and what is now SoHomarker. This plan and the Mid-Manhattan Expressway both failed politically; to this day no superhighway goes through the heart of Manhattan. One of his most vocal critics during this time was the urban activist Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was instrumental in turning opinion against Moses's plans; the city government rejected the expressway in 1964.

Moses' power was further sapped by his association with the 1964 New York World's Fair. His assumption of aggregate attendance of 70 million people for this event proved wildly optimistic, and generous contracts for Fair executives and contractors did not help the economics. His repeated and forceful public denials of the Fair's considerable financial difficulties in the face of the evidence eventually provoked press and governmental investigations, which eventually found accounting deceptions. In his organization of the fair, Moses' reputation was tarnished by his disdain for the opinions of others, his high-handed attempts to get his way in moments of conflict by turning to the press, and the fact that the fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the worldwide body supervising such events. Moses refused to accept BIE requirements, including a restriction against charging ground rents to exhibitors, and the BIE in turn instructed its member nations not to participate. (The United States had already staged the sanctioned Century 21 Exposition in Seattlemarker in 1962. According to the rules of the organization, no one nation could host more than one fair in a decade.) The major European democracies, as well as Canada, Australia and the Soviet Union were all BIE members and they declined to participate, instead reserving their efforts for the Seattle fair to be used at Expo 67 in Montrealmarker.

After the World's Fair debacle, New York City mayor John Lindsay, along with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, sought to use toll revenues from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority's (TBTA) bridges and tunnels to cover deficits in the city's then financially ailing agencies, including the subway system. Moses opposed this idea and fought to prevent it. Lindsay removed Moses from his post as the city's chief advocate for federal highway money in Washington afterwards, a small victory in what was largely seen as a political misstep.

But Moses could not so easily fend off Rockefeller, the only politician in the state who had a power base independent of him. The legislature's vote to fold the TBTA into the newly-created Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could technically have led to a lawsuit by the TBTA bondholders, since the bond contracts were written into state law and under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution states may not impair existing contractual obligations, and the bondholders had right of approval over such actions. However, the largest holder of TBTA bonds, and thus agent for all the others, was the Chase Manhattan Bank, headed then by David Rockefeller, the governor's brother. No suit was filed or even discussed. Moses could have directed TBTA to go to court against the action, but having been promised certain roles in the merged authority, Moses in turn declined to challenge the merger.

On March 1, 1968, the TBTA was folded into the MTA and Moses gave up his post as chairman of the TBTA. He eventually became a consultant to the MTA, but its new chairman and the governor froze him out - the promised roles did not materialize, and for all practical purposes Moses was out of power.

Moses had thought he had convinced Nelson Rockefeller of the need for one last great bridge project, a span crossing Long Island Sound from Ryemarker to Oyster Baymarker. Rockefeller did not press for the project in the late 1960s through 1970, fearing public backlash among suburban Republicans would hinder his re-election prospects. While a 1972 study found the bridge was fiscally prudent and could be environmentally manageable, the anti-development sentiment was now insurmountable and in 1973 Rockefeller cancelled plans for the bridge. In retrospect, author Steve Anderson writes that leaving densely-populated Long Island completely dependent on access through New York City may not have been an optimal policy decision.

The Power Broker

Moses' image suffered a further blow in 1974 with the publication of The Power Broker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Robert A. Caro. Caro's 1,200-page opus (edited from over 3,000 pages long) largely destroyed the remainder of Moses's reputation; essayist Phillip Lopate writes that "Moses' satanic reputation with the public can be traced, in the main, to...Caro's magnificent biography." For example, Caro described how insensitive Moses was in the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and how he willfully neglected public transit. Moses's reputation today is in many ways attributable to Caro, whose book won both the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1975 and the Francis Parkman Prize, which is awarded by the Society of American Historians, and was named one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books of the twentieth century by the Modern Library.

Caro's depiction of Moses' life gives him full credit for his early achievements, showing, for example, how he conceived and created Jones Beach and the New York State Park system, but he also shows how, as Moses' desire for power came to be more important to him than his earlier dreams, he destroyed more than a score of neighborhoods, by ramming 13 huge expressways across the heart of New York City and by building huge urban renewal projects with little regard for the urban fabric or for human scale. Yet the author is more neutral in his central premise: the city would have been a very different place — maybe better, maybe worse — if Moses had never existed. Other U.S. cities were doing the same thing as New York in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Bostonmarker, San Franciscomarker and Seattlemarker, for instance, each built highways straight through their downtown areas. The New York City architectural intelligentsia of the 1940s and 1950s largely believed in such prophets of the automobile as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe had supported Moses. Many other cities, like Newarkmarker, Chicagomarker and St. Louismarker, also built massive, unattractive public housing projects.

Caro argues that Moses also demonstrated racist tendencies. He, along with other members of the New York city planning commission, were vocal opponents against black war veterans moving into Stuyvesant Townmarker, a Manhattan residential development complex created to house World War II veterans.

People had come to see Moses as a bully who disregarded public input, but until the publication of Caro's book, they had not known that he had allowed his brother Paul to spend much of his life in poverty. Paul Moses, who was interviewed by Caro shortly before his death, claimed Robert had exerted undue influence on their mother to change their will in his favour shortly before her death. Caro notes that Paul was on bad terms with their mother over a long period and she may have changed the will of her own accord. Caro suggested that Robert's subsequent treatment of Paul may have been legally justifiable but was morally questionable.

The crypt of Robert Moses


During the last years of his life, Moses concentrated on his lifelong love of swimming and was an active member of the Colony Hill Country Club.

Moses died of heart disease on July 29, 1981, at the age of 92 at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New Yorkmarker. The headings in his New York Times obituary package form both a found poem and a thumbnail sketch of his life and influence: "Robert Moses, Master Builder, Is Dead at 92; Robert Moses, Builder of Road, Beach, Bridge and Housing Projects, Is Dead; Associate of High Officials; The Grand-Scale Approach; Not a Professional Planner; Part of 'Our Crowd'; Into the Orbit of Power; Fur Coat or Underwear?; An Overwhelming Success; Long Court Fights; Drafted Park Legislation; Moses' Tactics Were Both Extolled and Criticized; Badly Beaten in Election; Built to His Own Tastes; A Sampler of Quotations by Moses; The Face of a Region; and How One Man Changed It."

Moses was ethnically Jewish, but was raised in a secularist manner inspired by the Ethical Culture movement of the late 19th century. He was a convert to Christianity and was interred in a crypt in an outdoor community mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemeterymarker in the Bronxmarker following services at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church in Bay Shore, New Yorkmarker.

Legacy and lasting impact

The bridges of Robert Moses are an exemplary and disputed topic in the Social construction of technology. The main question is, how much ideology and politics can be built into technology and infrastructure such as bridges?

Robert A. Caro was fortunate enough to be able to interview Moses on seven occasions. He was also able to conduct 19 interviews with Sidney M. Shapiro, Moses's General Manager and chief engineer of the Long Island State Park Commission, who worked for Moses for forty years and was the man who carried out Moses's instructions to build the bridges on his parkways too low for buses. In his notes on sources Mr. Caro writes: "It is thanks to Shapiro, more than any other source that I came to understand Moses' attitude towards Negroes...."

For example, the construction of low overpasses on parkways were made purposely too low for buses to clear, and the veto against extending the Long Island Rail Road to Jones Beach, were to prevent the poor and racial minorities (largely dependent on public transit) from accessing the beach, while providing easy car access for wealthier white groups. In furtherance of this point of view, Caro also notes the provision of numerous park amenities on the West Side highway below 125th Street (the main street of Harlemmarker) versus the provision of few (if any) amenities north of 125th Street. Fort Tryon Parkmarker and the Cloistersmarker (both of which sit in the northern part of Manhattan Island) were built in Inwood, then an Irish Catholic neighborhood, rather than Harlem which is predominantly black.

Aside from the sociological view of Moses' accomplishments, there lies the question of urban destruction and suburban mobilization. Did Moses's work degrade the quality of life in the inner city? Does increased accessibility from the suburbs improve the quality of life by enabling commuting? Was the general direction of Moses's work a damaging trend which is now being corrected, or a natural part of urban evolution? While Caro and others attributed the urban decay of New York neighborhoods to Moses's aggressive road building, it may be noted cities with far less aggressive postwar highway construction, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, suffered similarly negative—or even worse—social trends.

While the overall impact of many of Moses' projects continues to be debated, their sheer scale across the urban landscape is indisputable. The peak of Moses's construction occurred during the economic duress of the Great Depression, and despite that era's woes, Moses's projects were completed in a timely fashion, and have been reliable public works since — which compares favorably to the contemporary delays New York City officials have had redeveloping the Ground Zero site of the former World Trade Centermarker, or the technical snafus surrounding Boston's Big Digmarker project.

Three major exhibits in 2007 prompted a reconsideration of his image among some intellectuals, as they acknowledged the magnitude of his achievements. According to Columbia University architectural historian Hilary Ballon and assorted colleagues, Moses deserves better. They argue that his legacy is more relevant than ever. All around New York State, she says, people take for granted the parks, playgrounds and housing Moses built, now generally binding forces in those areas, even if the old-style New York neighborhood was of no interest to Moses himself. And were it not for Moses’ public infrastructure and his resolve to carve out more space, she argues, New York might not have been able to recover from the blight and flight of the 1970s and ’80s and become the economic magnet it is today, she suggests.

"Every generation writes its own history," said Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian of New York City. "It could be that The Power Broker was a reflection of its time: New York was in trouble and had been in decline for 15 years. Now, for a whole host of reasons, New York is entering a new time, a time of optimism, growth and revival that hasn't been seen in half a century. And that causes us to look at our infrastructure," said Jackson. "A lot of big projects are on the table again, and it kind of suggests a Moses era without Moses," he added.

Politicians, too, are reconsidering the Moses legacy. In a 2006 speech to the Regional Plan Association on downstate transportation needs, Eliot Spitzer, who would be overwhelmingly elected governor later that year, said a biography of Moses written today might be called At Least He Got It Built. "That's what we need today. A real commitment to get things done."

A testament to the enduring nature of his impact can be found in the various locations and roadways in New York State that bear Moses's name. These include two state parks (one in Massena, New York, the other on Long Island), the Robert Moses Causeway on Long Island, the Robert Moses State Parkway in Niagara Falls, New Yorkmarker, and the Robert Moses Hydro-Electric Dammarker (source of much of New York City's electricity) also in Niagara Falls. Moses also has a school named after him in North Babylon, New Yorkmarker on Long Island. There are other signs of the surviving appreciation held for him by some circles of the public. A statue of Moses was erected next to the Village Hall in his long-time hometown, Babylon Village, New Yorkmarker, in 2003, as well as a bust on the Lincoln Centermarker campus of Fordham Universitymarker.

The impact of Robert Moses on the Rockaway Peninsulamarker was almost universally considered positive with his development of Jacob Riis Parkmarker and the Marine Parkway Bridgemarker in the 1930s. However, Moses's construction of the Shore Front Parkway and his large-scale introduction of public housing and large-scale demolition of the bungalow area along Rockaway's beachfront provoked criticism.


  • In 1934, Moses ran unsuccessfully for the office of Governor of New York, against incumbent Herbert H. Lehman.

  • Robert Moses had the Central Park Zoomarker built for Al Smith--the former governor, and president of the Empire State Buildingmarker--who lived near the park on the Upper East Side. Moses gave Smith a night key, and the elderly former king of Irish New York would go down to the Central Park Zoo by himself to talk to the animals. Smith loved to spend hours in the zoo after hours, "and he would switch on the lights as he entered each one, to the surprise of its occupants, and talk softly to them...And if one of the zoo’s less dangerous animals was sick or injured, Smith would enter its cage and stand for a while stroking its head and commiserating with it.”

See also




  • : "Moses is racist because of his designs where the highway passed through Harlem."

  • : "That Moses was highhanded, racist and contemptuous of the poor draws no argument even from the most ardent revisionists. But his grand vision and iron will, they say, seeded New York with highways, parks, swimming pools and cultural halls, from the Belt Parkway to Lincoln Center, and thus allowed the modern city to flower."

Further reading

  • Ballon, Hilary, Robert Moses and the Modern City:The Transformation of New York(NY: Norton, 2007).
  • Caro, Robert A., The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the fall of New York, New York: Knopf, 1974. hardcover: ISBN 0-394-48076-7, Vintage paperback: ISBN 0-394-72024-5
  • Berman, Marshall, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, New York: Viking Penguin, 1988.
  • Jameson W. Doig, "Regional Conflict in the New York Metropolis: The Legend of Robert Moses and the Power of the Port Authority," Urban Studies Volume 27, Number 2 / April 1990 pp 201–232
  • Kenneth T. Jackson and Hillary Ballon, eds. Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (W. W. Norton, 2007)
  • Lewis, Eugene, Public Entrepreneurship : toward a theory of bureaucratic political power—the organizational lives of Hyman Rickover, J. Edgar Hoover, and Robert Moses, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1980.
  • Rodgers, Cleveland, Robert Moses, Builder for Democracy, New York: Holt, 1952.
  • Krieg, Joann P. Robert Moses: Single-Minded Genius, Interlaken, New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1989.
  • Moses Robert. Public works: A dangerous trade. McGraw Hill. 1970. Autobiography

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