Keep up with essential planning news and commentary, delivered to your inbox every Monday and Thursday.
Robert Moses (1888–1981) was the "master builder" of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he 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 roadways in the sky, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island 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 Manhattan as opposed to Philadelphia. 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 Island, 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.