America's Greatest Builder?

<p>Critic Paul Goldberger suggests that New York planner Robert Moses may deserve another look at the "sheer scale of his achievements." Goldberger reviews the forthcoming book, "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York".</p>
February 6, 2007, 1pm PST | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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"For a generation, the standard view of Robert Moses has been that he transformed New York but didn't really make it better. This view was shaped by Robert Caro's epic biography 'The Power Broker' -- published in 1974 and in print ever since."

..."Caro called Moses 'America's greatest builder,' and perhaps the most distinctive service of the exhibition is to bring home the sheer scale of his achievement to a new audience. There are models of many Moses projects and exceptionally elegant color photographs, by Andrew Moore, showing the current state of those projects. The photographs are so beautiful that they make you yearn for a time when enhancing the public realm was a serious calling."

..."Ballon and Kenneth Jackson, a prominent historian of New York based at Columbia, have put most of the visual material from the three exhibitions, along with several strong essays, into a forthcoming book, 'Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York' (Norton; $50). The title is an obvious retort to Caro's subtitle, 'Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,' and the book presents itself as a cautious corrective to Caro's view."

..."Even more significant, perhaps, than Moses's productivity is the fact that he was one of the first people to look at New York City not as an isolated urban zone but as the central element in a sprawling region. In the early nineteen-thirties, he would charter small planes and fly back and forth across the metropolitan area to get a better sense of regional patterns."

..."In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses's method of building by decree. It may not have been democratic, or even right. Still, somebody has to look at the big picture and make decisions for the greater good. Moses's problem was that he couldn't take his eye off the big picture. He was so in tune with New York's vastness that he had no patience for anything small within it."

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Published on Monday, February 5, 2007 in The New Yorker
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