The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York 
by Robert Caro.
Bodley Head, 1246 pp., £35, July 2015, 978 1 84792 364 6
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Robert Moses​ was a modernist pharaoh. Over the forty years from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, he became a virtual dictator of public works in all five boroughs of New York and much of its suburban surroundings. Almost singlehandedly, through chicanery, fraud and bullying, he created the modern infrastructure of the New York City area: expressways, tunnels and bridges, but also parks, beaches, swimming pools and high-rise housing projects. He envisioned an American version of Le Corbusier’s ideal city, cleansed of disorder and unpredictability, focused on cars rather than pedestrians, committed to an idea of urban public space as empty plazas dominated by glass towers. He aspired to be a master builder, and his achievements ranged from the elegant – the Art Deco bathhouses at Jones Beach on Long Island – to the catastrophic: the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which destroyed thriving neighbourhoods and displaced thousands of people.

Robert Moses

Robert Moses

By 1968, when Moses was finally forced from power, the catastrophes had become impossible to ignore. The bridges, tunnels and expressways had intensified traffic jams, not relieved them; the public transport system was perishing from neglect; the destroyed neighbourhoods and high-rise housing projects were all boarded-up windows, broken glass and drunks marinating in their own piss. Moses was becoming a symbol of everything that was wrong with modernist urban planning: its hostility to street life, its indifference to neighbourhood cohesion, its infatuation with cars and the comparatively well-off people who drove them.

The collapse of modernist grandiosity accelerated a swerve in urban planning towards the view articulated by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), which promoted a new emphasis on protecting vital neighbourhoods and allowing for unpredictable social encounters in public spaces. This was a turn to a different modernism: the sort embodied in Stephen Dedalus’s definition of God as ‘a shout in the street’; the sort that celebrated spontaneity, improvisation and play. For half a century, Jacobs’s humane perspective has leavened the discourse of urban revitalisation while at the same time unleashing a flood of preppy bars and cleverly themed emporia – the benign but by now predictable markers of gentrification. Still Moses’s monuments remain: swooping ribbons of steel, clogged with cars; futuristic fantasies of speed, stuck in traffic; concrete embodiments of his modernist hubris.

While Moses’s utopia was crashing and burning, Robert Caro was writing The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. It was first published in 1974. New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy, social breakdown seemed imminent. Elite institutions manifested a siege mentality: on a visit to Columbia University’s Butler Library in the early 1970s, I remember noticing that the floor lamps were chained to the radiators; anything not secured, it seemed, was liable to be carried off. No wonder Caro connected Moses with ‘the fall of New York’. The master builder had become the architect of urban collapse. The Power Broker showed, in overwhelming detail, how Moses’s overreach led to disaster. In the dark days of the 1970s, the book was celebrated as a shrewd diagnosis of the city’s ills; now, when the city is leaking capital out of every pore, New York triumphalists have taken to questioning Caro’s critique, claiming it’s time to revisit Moses’s work. But in the end the revisiting does little to alter the critique.

Caro’s​ epigraph is from Sophocles: ‘One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.’ Or, in Moses’s case, Caro implies, to see how hollow the splendour has been. Moses spent most of his career awash in adulation. For nearly four decades, every print medium from the Times to the tabloids, from Fortune to Architecture Forum, agreed that he was a preternaturally gifted and dedicated public servant, a man above politics, above graft and greed, committed to Getting Things Done quickly and efficiently. And the things themselves – the parks, playgrounds and beaches, the bridges and parkways and expressways – either epitomised the grandeur of American aspiration, or enhanced the innocent pleasure of the American people at play, or both. Who could not admire such a man, working for peanuts or sometimes for nothing at all, transforming the city into a fitting capital for the richest and most powerful nation on earth? What’s not to like?

Caro spends 1200 pages answering that question in detail. The legend of Robert Moses the disinterested public servant was always ‘a gigantic hoax’, he writes. Moses knew how to manipulate the local and national media, but he was as dependent on graft and patronage as any old pol from Tammany Hall, for decades the home of the Democratic Party machine. Though he didn’t sup directly at the public trough, he had no scruples about ignoring or stretching the law to advance his agenda, creating no-show jobs for friends who could do him favours and no-bid contracts for compliant contractors, courting politicians with lavish entertainment at public expense – providing, on many such occasions at Jones Beach, martinis from one fountain, Manhattans from another, and music from Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, the maestros of cheesy white pop. For the first decade or so of his career, Moses preserved his youthful attachment to the ideals of the Progressive movement – parks for the people, clean government by the competent – and pursued power for the sake of those ideals. But from 1934 on, after he was appointed parks commissioner by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, he pursued power for the sake of more power.

He was born in 1888 in New Haven, Connecticut. His mother, Bella Cohen Moses, was a strong-willed woman like her own mother, the ‘flashingly imperious’ Rosalie Silverman Cohen. The Cohens were part of the German-Jewish elite that profited from mercantile enterprise, assimilated to secular enlightenment values and, two generations on, produced the likes of Walter Lippmann and J. Robert Oppenheimer – cultivated Jewish men at ease among the gentile ruling class of the early 20th century. Moses’s father, Emanuel Moses, owned a flourishing department store in New Haven and had begun to buy up real estate in the town. But he was ‘too slow and quiet’ for the Cohens, who thought Bella had married beneath her. She soon became impatient with provincial New Haven and insisted the family move to New York. Emanuel sold his store and his real estate, unwillingly backing into life as a retired businessman turned rentier capitalist; she became immersed in settlement house work on the Lower East Side. Embarrassed by the new Jewish immigrants, the ‘wild Asiatics’ from Poland and Russia, she was at the same time excited by the prospect of building playgrounds for their children. This work engaged her for thirty years – and engaged her son Robert for longer.

Bella’s family money supplied the crucial foundation for Robert’s career as master builder of playgrounds, parks, and the roads to reach them. He enacted his mother’s enthusiasms on a scale she never could have imagined. It began as a form of filial duty. From the first, Bella had doted on Robert, her middle child and second son. And he knew how to curry her favour. Unlike Paul, his older brother, Robert knew when to stop an argument with Bella. He and his mother remained close, while Paul spun off into outer darkness and eventually received only a trickle of the Cohen wealth. Robert depended on it for decades.

Returning to New Haven as a Yale freshman in 1905, Moses encountered snobbery and anti-Semitism – though he resolutely distanced himself from his Jewishness. Gradually he made a world of his own where he could exercise power, not the inner circle but only a circle or two out: if not football, swimming; if not a senior society, a lesser club; if not the top literary magazine, a less prestigious one. All of it, combined with academic success, was enough at graduation to earn him admission to Oxford, where he learned to emulate the British upper class, especially their apparent insouciance about money. Thus began his lifelong ‘compulsion to pick up cheques’, according to Caro. When he returned to Columbia to complete a PhD, he redefined ‘upper class’ as ‘meritocracy’ in his dissertation, ‘The Civil Service of Great Britain’. Moses praised the British Civil Service for its emphasis on open competition and advancement by merit but also for its class feeling and conservatism: privilege and merit, for him, co-existed symbiotically. Applying that principle to the United States, he assumed that only Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates would be qualified for civil service work as a matter of course; the rest of the Ivy League would be included on sufferance; public university graduates would be invisible. More flagrantly than most civil service reformers in the US at the time, Moses vindicated class privilege with the rhetoric of merit.

Receiving his degree in 1913, he joined the right wing of the Progressive movement: the managerial Progressives who limited their platform to clean government by neutral experts. He took a job with the Bureau of Municipal Research in New York. Research, for managerial Progressives, was always conflated with ‘reform’; once you had exposed corruption to the light of day, your experts could get to work lancing and draining the wound. Moses was an eager recruit in this campaign. ‘He was always just burning up with ideas,’ his colleague at the bureau, Frances Perkins, recalled (Perkins later became secretary of labour under Roosevelt). At the bureau he also met Mary Louise Sims, a demure Wisconsin Progressive with more populist sympathies than Moses. He fell in love with her and pressed his suit with characteristic ardour; Mary was flattered and ultimately overwhelmed. They were married in 1915.

Moses brought the same erotic energy to civil service reform. He was one of those young men whose pulse could be set racing by a new system of classifying government jobs. He embarked on a huge reclassification project, drawing up a detailed plan for making promotions on a grading system based on merit – a move calculated to outrage the Tammany Hall Democrats, whose power depended on patronage jobs. In his confrontations with the Democratic machine, Moses proved himself courageous, idealistic and arrogant: just the kind of ‘goo goo’ reformer the common man had learned to jeer at. Reclassification went nowhere.

Moses soon​ jettisoned his Progressive baggage. In the 1920s he became Governor Al Smith’s chief operative in the New York State Assembly, where he mastered the arts of twisting arms and drafting legislation – skills he learned under the tutelage of Belle Moskowitz, an old neighbourhood friend of Smith’s and the governor’s behind-the-scenes political adviser. Moskowitz loosened up the stiff young idealist in Moses, taught him the importance of partisanship and political manoeuvring to get his agenda across. Moses was excited: finally he glimpsed a chance of seeing his ideas implemented.

And his ideas, by that time, were mostly about parks. He and his mother had been talking. By 1922, he had produced A State Park Plan for New York, which impressed Smith, who knew a winning political issue when he saw one: who could be against parks for the people? Moses started tramping through Long Island, home to many a robber baron’s estate. As he tramped he dreamed of tearing down the walls of the barons’ castles and putting parkways in the potato fields, bringing the masses to the woodlands and the shore. In 1923, Smith appointed him president of the Long Island State Park Commission and chair of the newly created State Parks Council. Moses had drafted the bill establishing the commission: he made the president’s term longer than the governor’s, and also made it impossible to remove the president from office without detailed charges of misconduct and a formal public hearing. He was learning how to be ‘the best bill drafter in Albany’, in Smith’s words, and moving from a Progressive faith in transparency to a pragmatic deployment of ‘concealment and deviousness’, in Caro’s.

Moses quickly got to work, sending Park Commission employees out to survey farmers’ land without legal authorisation, defending himself with pseudo-populist assertions that only a ‘few rich golfers’ opposed creating parkland from private estates and farms. Gradually he discovered that he could create a system of patronage every bit as complex as Tammany’s, and sometimes overlapping with it. Parks meant jobs for loyal friends, lucrative contracts for construction firms, and real-estate deals for rich insiders. Justifying his methods, Moses resorted to familiar bromides (‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’) and prickly conundrums (‘If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?’). By the time he had become fully established in power, he took to boasting: ‘Nothing I have ever done has been tinged with legality.’ As Caro writes, ‘once Bob Moses came into possession of power, it began to perform its harsh alchemy on his character, altering its contours, eating away at some traits, allowing others to enlarge.’ The influence of his imperious grandmother and implacable mother was evident.

Exercising power required accommodation with elites and indifference to the rest. His Northern State Parkway on Long Island skirted Otto Kahn’s estate, as well as others owned by men of wealth and influence – but not the hundred-acre farms of men like James Roth, whose best land was bisected and paved over. The same outlook shaded into distaste for the people his projects were supposed to serve. As Frances Perkins said, ‘He loves the public, but not as people. The public is just the public. It’s a great amorphous mass to him; it needs to be bathed, it needs to be aired, it needs recreation, but not for personal reasons – just to make it a better public.’ ‘Better’ meant well-behaved, modestly well-fixed, and white – black people, he believed, were ‘inherently “dirty”’. Moses’s preference for cars over mass transit red-lined minorities and the poor.

Despite his disdain for the masses he became the beneficiary of electoral politics when La Guardia won the mayoralty and appointed Moses park commissioner. That made him head of the Triborough Bridge Authority, plus six other agencies in charge of parks and major roadways in the city. Like Al Smith, La Guardia allowed Moses to draft the legislation creating the positions. Moses again made sure he had nearly unlimited unilateral power and that it would be difficult if not impossible to dislodge him from the job. The mayor, as Caro reports, was a ‘bullying petty tyrant to subordinates’ – but not to Moses, who denounced La Guardia as ‘that dago son of a bitch’ behind his back yet named a playground in Williamsburg after him. With La Guardia as with subsequent mayors, Moses operated independently of the public official who had appointed him, escaping accountability to anyone.

Once in office, he raced around the city, ensconced in the back seat of a chauffeured limousine, seeing opportunities for playgrounds everywhere. The press cheered his every move as he presided over repeated ribbon-cutting ceremonies with his trademark grin while he cultivated fantasies of his own world-historical significance, viewing the city from a small plane, thinking ‘the man who built the Triborough Bridge would be a man who conferred a great boon on the greatest city in the New World. He would be the man who tied that city together.’ The completion of the bridge was a triumph for Moses, followed by a failure that remained unnoticed by the press. As Caro observes, within months it had become apparent that the bridge hadn’t just failed to solve the traffic problem but had exacerbated it. Moses rushed to fix things by building another bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone, refusing to allow any railtracks on it and finishing the project three months ahead of schedule.

Moses’s hostility to commuter rail services betrayed the flaws in his modernist vision, his distaste for the chaotic density of urban life, his desire for predictability and control. His Long Island style, at Jones Beach and elsewhere, had leavened Corbusian modernism with Art Deco playfulness, using broad brushstrokes but also ‘charming little touches and an overall vitality, a brio, that made it unique and should not be lost’. Applied to the city the broad brushstrokes wiped out whole neighbourhoods: much of Sunset Park in Brooklyn, especially its Third Avenue retail district, was amputated by the Gowanus Expressway; much of Inwood, including part of the hamlet of Spuyten Duyvil, was spoiled by the West Side Highway.

The West Side project epitomised Moses’s approach in several ways. It revealed his habitual hostility to black people; he spent millions enlarging Riverside Park through landfill, but not a cent between 125th and 155th streets, in Harlem, where the black population was concentrated. It also revealed his characteristic tactic of creating facts on the ground before his opponents had time to move. Faced with local opposition to his plan, he set pile-drivers pounding bulkheads into the Hudson off Riverside Park before any authorisation had been issued by the Manhattan Borough president. Other routes would have been cheaper and less destructive to the social and natural ecology of the area. Moses claimed the cost was ‘only a few trees’, but as Caro points out, the ‘West Side Improvement … cost the people of New York their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last freshwater marsh’. The master builder was also a master destroyer.

Surrounded by sycophantic aides, he refused to be thwarted even temporarily. ‘More and more frequently,’ Caro writes, ‘when he heard a report of some delay or obstacle, the big powerful face would turn pale, almost white, and a wave of purple, rising up the thick neck, would sweep across it. More and more frequently, the palm of the big right hand would begin to smack down on the table as he talked, and his secretaries, sitting in their office outside trying to smile at each other, would hear his voice begin to rise.’ Caro mentions many minor officials who were publicly humiliated and driven out of public service by Moses merely because they had the temerity to insist that he obey the law. Small wonder no one wanted to cross him.

‘He had no use for human beings,’ his brother Paul recalled. ‘He would just use them up, and then when he had no more use for them, he would throw them away.’ Robert made sure that his brother, a skilled engineer, would never be hired by the city, and refused even to speak to him (let alone lend him money) for the last decade of his brother’s life. There was something fratricidal about Robert’s apparent desire to make Paul disappear. After Bella died, Robert dismissed her as a cipher even though she had supported him and his family her entire life. Only his daughters, Jane and Barbara, escaped his contempt or wrath. His wife, Mary, mothered him, overseeing all the essential details of his life down to his underwear and socks, eventually losing him to the many women who found him attractive. In the end she retreated into drink and depression, while her husband marched on: ‘an elemental force’ in the shaping of New York, as Caro writes, but ‘also a blind force … blind and deaf to argument, to new ideas, to any ideas except his own’.

The Art Deco panache of his earlier projects, his playgrounds and swimming pools, began to disappear as he cranked out projects at accelerating speed. By the mid-20th century, his ideas had become a caricature of conventional planning wisdom. Unlike the borough presidents, whom he reduced to figureheads, Moses knew and cared nothing about the communities his projects affected. He talked only of irresistible ‘progress’. Unresponsive to the public he supposedly served, he consorted only with bankers, real-estate developers and the heads of construction unions. During the decade and a half after the Second World War, he dominated a series of mediocre mayors. When they faced fiscal crisis, his solution was to raise subway fares and double the sales tax. During one four-year period, from 1950 to 1954, he built 88 miles of new highways, not one of subways; schools went unmaintained, hospitals unbuilt while Moses kept driving in stakes, creating facts on the ground.

Still,​ there were problems involved in smashing up people’s homes. Dictators could do it with impunity but it was more complicated in a democracy. Moses wasn’t one for nuance: ‘When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis,’ he said, ‘you have to hack your way with a meat axe.’ So it was with the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which turned blocks and blocks of solid housing stock into ‘ravaged hulks’ (in Caro’s words). The problem wasn’t only the meat axe but the highways that came in its wake. Moses’s projects constituted a case study in what planners began to call ‘traffic generation’: ‘The more highways were built to alleviate congestion, the more automobiles would pour onto them and thus force the building of more highways – which would generate more traffic and become congested in their turn in an inexorably widening spiral.’ The alternative was a balanced system that included significant expenditure on public transport, which Moses rejected. By the mid-1950s, though he never learned to drive, Moses was emperor of the ascendant car culture.

But he was about to overreach himself by declaring war on Jane Jacobs and her Greenwich Village neighbours – a war unaccountably left out of Caro’s book. In 1952, he proposed an extension of Fifth Avenue that would run though Washington Square Park in the heart of Greenwich Village, for decades a thriving multi-ethnic mix of shopkeepers, tradesmen, artists and intellectuals. The plan was opposed by literate citizens who were learning to use the mass media almost as well as he’d been using it. After years of petitions, public protests and angry letters to the Times, the city closed the park to traffic. Moses fumed: ‘There is nobody against this. Nobody, nobody, nobody but a bunch of, a bunch of mothers.’ The matriarch’s favourite son was undone by a different sort of woman.

Jacobs was one of the mothers. She rose to prominence as the Village defended itself against Moses-style schemes. The Housing Act of 1949 had made it possible for a city to use eminent domain as an instrument of private development. This made ‘urban renewal’ a bonanza for crony capitalists: the city could declare a neighbourhood a slum, bulldoze it, and turn it over to developers, who would build apartments for more affluent tenants. The process was tailor-made for Moses’s talents, though by the late 1950s he had tired of it and turned most of his attention to bridges and highways. Still the bulldozers rolled on, and in 1961 they headed for the West Village, which had been designated a ‘blighted area’. Jacobs co-chaired the Committee to Save the West Village, using litigation and publicity to stop the bulldozers in their tracks. The Death and Life of Great American Cities came out that year. Moses knew an enemy when he saw one: ‘Sell this junk to someone else,’ he wrote to Bennett Cerf at Random House, returning a copy of the book Cerf had sent him. But Moses couldn’t get rid of Jacobs so easily. She and her allies blocked his cherished dream of a Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run along Broome Street, wiping out many blocks of historic cast-iron commercial buildings – not to mention parts of Little Italy and Chinatown. New Yorkers were beginning to realise that Moses’s version of progress was not always worth the price.

The Village opposition to Moses was part of a larger pattern. Another ‘bunch of mothers’ stopped him from expanding the Tavern on the Green parking lot and destroying an arcadian spot on Central Park West. The impresario Joseph Papp successfully challenged Moses’s attempt to stop Shakespeare in the Park. And investigative reporters turned up more and more evidence that Moses’s Slum Clearance Program, though a disaster for tenants (mostly poor minorities), who were evicted from apartments with no plans for relocation, had proved a bonanza for real-estate developers and political insiders. ‘Urban renewal’ was revealing the aptness of its colloquial definition: ‘Negro removal’. The newspapers, which had rhapsodised over Moses for so long, now had an interest in tearing him down, feeding the public appetite for scandal.

What​ finally ended Moses’s career was the rise of Nelson Rockefeller, a man as maniacally committed as Moses to building public works, but with even greater access to wealth and power. The two men eyed each other respectfully but warily until 1960, when Rockefeller decided he wanted to appoint his brother Laurance to Moses’s post as head of the State Parks Council. Moses was incensed. He threatened to resign from the council and several other park positions, assuming Rockefeller would never accept his departure. But he did – and no one in the press really cared. Moses was fatally wounded, and Rockefeller finished him off with a plan to collapse Moses’s Triborough Authority into a larger Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He tricked Moses into tacitly backing the plan, promising that his autonomy would be preserved. And then, Caro writes, ‘having used his name, having gotten everything out of him that he could, the governor threw him away.’ Moses, an outsider turned insider, was done in by a man whose insider credentials were unchallengeable – a mere Dartmouth man, maybe, but a Rockefeller.

Now times have changed. The city has been revived by sustained transfusions of private capital; the siege mentality has lifted. The lamps are no longer chained to the radiators in Butler Library. Affluent New Yorkers are more satisfied with themselves and their city than ever. The less affluent are less satisfied, largely because they face soaring rents and real-estate prices. New York is the Ground Zero of neoliberal capitalism; years after the real-estate bubble burst in the rest of the country, the city continues to attract rich investors, including many from abroad – the sort of people who can pay cash for the luxury condos rising in Brooklyn. The modestly fixed flee to the outer boroughs or beyond, while the precariat who try to stay are increasingly driven to the margins. Yet the New York Times Real Estate section can still run a photograph of the Manhattan skyline over the headline ‘City of Gold’.

In this giddy atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that attempts have been made to rehabilitate the master builder’s reputation. Indeed there were signs of a shift as early as 1982, when Marshall Berman wrote about Moses in All That Is Solid Melts into Air. Berman had grown up in the 1940s and 1950s in Tremont, the neighbourhood bisected by the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and he bitterly remembered the pain inflicted by Moses’s wrecking crew. He cited Allen Ginsberg’s protest against Moloch, the ‘sphinx of cement and aluminum’ worshipped by Moses, and he recognised the power of Ginsberg’s indictment. Yet Berman undermined his own critique by asserting that Moses embodied the vitality of modernism as well as its destructive force. Indeed his devotion to creative destruction epitomised the restless energy which (according to Berman) ‘all moderns’ shared.

In modern life, Berman observed, the Old Neighbourhood usually didn’t have a chance (despite Jacobs’s efforts). According to another Tremont native, a defence consultant Berman meets at a Columbia cocktail party, everybody who grew up in that part of the Bronx heard an inner voice urging: ‘Get out, schmuck, get out!’ It was the modernist imperative, according to Berman, the ceaseless impulse to cut ties, move out, move on. So the sacrifice of Tremont to the Cross-Bronx Expressway, from this view, was necessary to the continuing modern dialectic of liberation and loss: Moses was simply implementing the conflict at the core of modernity. This argument, strained and abstract as it may seem, has nevertheless inspired innumerable readers struggling to find a place for themselves in the maelstrom of the modern city.

Berman’s admiration, however reluctant, was a portent. In 2007, the Queens Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University collaborated on an exhibition called Robert Moses and the Modern City. The catalogue essay by the urban historian Kenneth Jackson challenged Caro’s focus on ‘the fall of New York’, arguing that in 1974 the city was poised on the verge of an astonishing renaissance: ‘In the space of three decades it changed from a poster child of urban despair to an international symbol of glamour, sophistication, success, competition and safety.’ The most striking evidence is that ‘real-estate prices – perhaps the ultimate barometer of urban health in a capitalist society – reached levels unequalled in any city in the history of the world.’ Moses ‘will be remembered as a key actor in the rise of New York, not its fall’, Jackson wrote. Without the highway system he built, ‘New York would not be able to claim in the 1990s that it was the capital of the 20th century, the capital of capitalism, and the capital of the world’.

Apart from the vacuity of that crescendo, what is most striking about Jackson’s argument is his equation of high real-estate prices with urban health. The criterion of well-being is not how we live (or how we might live) but how much we can get for our dwelling when we decide to move on – which, being modern people, we undoubtedly will. This narrative epitomises Moses’s (and Berman’s) merger of modernity and perpetual motion. Like other fantasies of urban liberation, it also ignores the many people who can’t afford the price of admission to the City of Gold, or who have already been squeezed out.

Money remains at the centre of everything, though there may be more ways to manipulate it than there were in Moses’s day. Developers still collaborate with government officials to generate private wealth, only now they do it through twenty-year tax abatements or the ‘private activity bonds’ issued to insiders in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Despite the efforts of the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, to make housing more affordable, the city remains as committed as ever to high-end real-estate developers at the expense of everyone else. Moses would greet that news with his trademark grin.

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Vol. 38 No. 8 · 21 April 2016

Jackson Lears didn’t mention that Robert Moses, as well as building up and tearing down New York City, did the same thing throughout the state of New York (LRB, 17 March). He ‘banded’ it with parkways bearing his name – while he was still alive – from my hometown of Niagara Falls all the way back (five hundred miles and nine hours’ driving) to his own adopted hometown of Babylon, Long Island.

In fact, Moses built what was then the world’s largest power project in Niagara Falls, and another slightly smaller one in Massena on the St Lawrence. (He had his name painted in three-foot-high black letters on a covered walkway extending from the Robert Moses Power Dam over the Robert Moses Parkway.) While these state-wide projects were huge boons to upstate New York cities during their construction (Niagara Falls’s population swelled to 120,000), Moses, never one to learn from his mistakes, went on to tear down all of downtown Niagara Falls to build a convention centre that looked exactly like an airplane hangar.

Niagara Falls now has fewer than 45,000 residents, most of the Robert Moses Parkway has been closed down and is covered with weeds and crab-grass, and the Robert Moses Power Project has silently been renamed the Niagara Power Project. The Borghese-style lettering has been removed.

Kevin DiCamillo
Haledon, New Jersey

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