Saturday, July 30, 2011

Robert Moses Revisionism

Recently I was sent an article about Robert Moses that attempted, awkwardly I must say, to revise and re-assess the master builder's legacy. You can read it here

Basically the argument is this: Moses did more good stuff than bad and, hey, he was a product of his times. It takes issue with The Power Broker and says that not everything in it is true.  

Well, I think this revisionism is nonsense. You should read my original review of The Power Broker here for the classic argument against the Moses legacy.

See, I grew up in the city that Moses built and I can say that the book is spot-on regarding his diminished legacy. This article lauds Moses for building bridges and, yes, he built lots of them -- with no accommodations for subway lines. Yes, he built lots of parks -- that are depressing and ugly. Yes, he built lots of public housing -- that was even more ugly and depressing. And he rammed so many highways through this town that it destroyed neighborhoods and flooded NYC with cars -- and for this, there is no counter argument.

And the "product of his times" argument holds no water with me. There were lots and lots of people at the time who told him he was wrong and who advocated for increased public transportation, for building fewer highways and building ones in ways that didn't destroy neighborhoods, for not cutting off access to the city's waterfront, and for building better public housing. Moses was not a victim of any kind of group-think: he was an arrogant, abusive man who misshaped NYC and there were lots of people telling him at the time that this was disastrous -- and he didn't listen. 

So beware the revisionists! Beware those who wish "to set the record straight." It's like people today who talk about Nixon and say, "Oh, besides that whole Watergate thing, he was a great president."  Or LBJ: "Besides that whole Vietnam thing, he was a great president."

Same thing with Moses: "Oh yeah, he destroyed neighborhoods, flooded the city with cars, built ugly and depressing public parks and housing, and starved badly needed public transportation of money, all of which still plagues us to this day but really, the good outweighs the bad." 

Ha! Please. Revisionism is a feeble attempt to make bad people and bad decisions look less bad. To somehow portray a negative legacy as a good one. It's an Orwellian exercise, like trying to make two plus two equal five. And it reminds me of that old joke: "Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

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