chapter  6
14 Pages

Conceiving the city

The political and ideological battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs marked the history of twentieth-century New York. Moses entered public office in the 1920s and worked for the city for almost 40 years. During his tenure, he created 658 playgrounds and 17 public swimming pools across all of New York’s neighbourhoods, encouraged slum clearance programs, built bridges across the Hudson and many parkways, and was also behind the construction of several important buildings such as Lincoln Center in Manhattan and the World Fair complex in Queens. His faith in highways as instruments of urban renewal had been criticized since the 1930s. But the debate became increasingly acrimonious in the late 1950s, when Jacobs and other civil rights advocates and scholars such as Lewis Mumford criticized Moses for spending huge amounts of money on car-oriented projects and not enough on public transportation, and for reconstruction pro - jects that tore apart traditional neighbourhoods and communities. Moses’ reign ended as the public got tired of his long tenure, civil-rights movements emerged, and after two influential books were published: in 1974, Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Power Broker, which demonized Moses for promoting socially and racially prejudiced projects, and Jane Jacobs’s 1961 The Death and Life of Great Ameri - can Cities, which criticized Moses’s huge and disruptive modernist projects and advocated a small-scale and community-based approach to urban life. Only recently has a more balanced view of this ideological battle between Moses and Jacobs been permitted in academia, with books and exhibitions showing how Moses reshaped New York, often actually favouring historically disregarded communities, while Jacobs’s advocacy for the neighbourhood scale and small businesses has also

been appropriated in gentrified urban projects, using her discourse against her cause.