If you have some downtime over the holiday, and you’re looking to wrap your mind around a truly urban-minded love-hate story with the automobile, then we’ve got just the thing for you. After posting an article on the need for the Scajaquada Expressway to be downgraded into a boulevard, a reader passed along a video segment called New York: A Documentary Episode 6 A City of Tomorrow (part of a PBS series). Yes, it’s the battle between the car, people, sprawl, and one of the greatest cities on the planet – a city that, like Buffalo, faced many hard decisions as it was going through its growing pains.
Buffalo might not resemble New York altogether, but in certain ways it does. We’re smaller, we’ve had rougher times… but there are some similarities, thanks to proximity, architecture, park systems… and Moses. This video documents the building years during and after the Great Depression. It stars La Guardia, The Great Depression, The New Deal and Robert Moses – considered the greatest builder of public works the city would ever see. Moses held power in NYC for half a century, which is almost unfathomable when one considers the singular power he had to do as he pleased.
In the video, Moses emerges around the 40 minute mark. The video preceding his entrance sets up his grand arrival alongside La Guardia. Moses set out to create a city that was dependent on the automobile. In the video, it is said that “Moses didn’t care about people he passionately cared about automobiles… and moving them.” The automobile went from the “rich man’s toy” to the machine that did away with large scale passenger train travel, and trolleys, thus changing the tight knit travel modes that NYC was built upon. Where Olmsted’s goal was to bring the country to the city, Moses was determined to create direct access to the country, and anywhere else that they wanted to go. “To drive to beauty… to a park… through a park, known as ribbon parks.” Just as we drive along our waterways, to get glimpses of their natural beauty, Moses felt that driving through a park would achieve a similar goal. What could be better? Grand aesthetics and convenience without ever stepping outside until one reaches his or her destination. America’s greatest road builder taught the rest of the road builders what to do.
When Moses became the NYC Parks Commissioner, the face of the city would also drastically change, similar to what was taking place on the outskirts. After tackling the city’s parks, that had long languished, Moses set out to construct the first urban highway system in the world, which was the death knell of mass transit. There is no doubt that Moses got people back to work, and nailed some Public Works successes along the way, but NYC was forever altered.
NYC’s powerful automaton public authorities were created in order collect money to build additional public works projects that included roadways upon roadways. The comparisons to Buffalo are clear from the Public Policy that created racial divide to a disconnect from our waterways. The similarities are eerily familiar. This video is a cautionary tale, that fortunately can be remedied if we understand how it all happened, and reverse the policies that drove it.