Besides warping this city's infrastructure and destroying neighborhoods with his ill-conceived highways, parks, and other structures, the "master builder" Robert Moses also did this city another great disservice: he made the idea of huge public works scary.
Over the last forty years since Moses fell from power, New Yorkers have looked askance at attempts to build huge, city-altering projects.
Ten years after 9/11, Ground Zero is still a work in progress after years of financial and regulatory problems and squabbles. Recently the Arc Tunnel project connecting NY and NJ was killed and people both in New York and New Jersey don't seem to care. Moynahan Station and the Second Avenue Subway still remain frustrating out of reach. And now there is great debate over the Tappen Zee bridge which Governor Cuomo wants to repair but wants to do on the cheap -- which would mean not including any kind of public transportation improvements like a rail connector or pedestrian walkways.
Building big or re-imagining our city and our area's physical plant almost seems impossible these days.
Obviously it comes to down to money (i.e. taxes) and public will (i.e. political power). If New Yorkers aren't willing to pay the taxes or tolls for more public works, then our infrastructure won't improve. If we are going to punish politicians who want to raise the taxes and build these public works with electoral defeat, then our infrastructure won't only not improve -- it will degrade. Sadly, not only in New York but around the country, politicians have been getting elected by promising to kill things like high-speed rail and other public works. Clearly, not only in NY but elsewhere too, we're not going in the right direction in terms of our city and nation's physical plant.
This article makes this point and more. And it makes you wonder: do we need another Robert Moses? The man who got things done despite the politicians?
I don't think so but our city does need to get over its fear of building big. We need to clearly and soberly look at what our city's infrastructure problems are, come to a political and financial consensus about the work required and the costs it will entail, and then move forward boldly. We just don't need to do it the way Robert Moses did.
And this is what we need: we don't need more highways or bike paths -- we need more subways lines and light rail links. We don't need more public housing projects and luxury skyscrapers -- we need more affordable housing constructed in a way that compliments and doesn't destroy neighborhoods. We need to re-build our sewers and other hidden but vital infrastructure. None of this stuff is "sexy" but vital.
We need to build in a way that will make it easier for New Yorkers to live, work and get around this city -- and that will ensure our future.