Heights History: Nabe vs Robert Moses

newman_gallery8.jpgTo some Robert Moses was the most brilliant urban planner who ever lived. Others will argue that Moses’ cold and wreckless vision stymied beauty and fostered the urban blight of the mid-twentieth century.

Among his accomplishments, Moses built the Belt Parkway and replaced Brooklyn’s shorefront towns with horrific high-rise apartments worthy of the Eastern Bloc.

His 1947 master plan for the BQE would have cut through Brooklyn in a manner similar to his borough hacking construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway proposed at about the same time.

Moses succeeded in destroying a portion of Hicks Street by laying down his 6 lane highway through Red Hook.  He met with little opposition from the poor, immigrant Italian community there who feared retaliation — or worse, deportation — from City Hall if they protested.  “(Moses) could have run it down Van Brunt Street by the water, but he didn’t,”  resident Camille Sacco told Newsday.

Here in Brooklyn Heights, more affluent and influential residents were able to persuade Moses to accept a compromise — one with roots dating back to Hezekiah Pierrepont’s plan in the 1820s to build a vista point near the water to rival Manhattan’s Battery. (Note: One of Moses’ other proposals was the Brooklyn Battery Bridge, a project that would have destroyed Battery Park.  The plan was thwarted by FDR and the Navy who claimed that a bridge in that location, if bombed by Axis forces, would completely block the East River.  In its place, the bridge became the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.)

The “Power Broker” came to an agreement with the community, resulting in the construction of a two-tiered highway and the creation of the Brooklyn Promenade. Both opened in 1954. Reconstruction of this section of the BQE is scheduled to begin next year.

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  • pete

    ‘shorefront towns’? thats a new one. sometimes called revisionist history

  • Homer Fink

    Yeah, but poetic no? Better than “fishing villages”.

  • Greg

    Where can I get more information about the planned reconstruction of the promenade section of the BQE? I searched the DOT web site, but didn’t turn anything up.

  • anon

    what a horrible man. he was certainly a horrible urban planner who wanted nothing more than segregating the upper class from the lower class. To me, he was a destroyer of land. Embarrasing to say the least.

    PS: went to architecture school with his great great granddaughter. She dropped out after the 2nd semester. the legacy cannot live on.

  • boy genius

    from http://www.nycroads.com/roads/brooklyn-queens/
    “The state recently undertook studies for rehabilitation alternatives on the cantilevered section of the BQE through Brooklyn Heights. Reconstruction of the cantilevered section is expected to begin in 2007″

  • bigmissfrenchie

    Robert Moses was not a horrible man; he actually did some really great things, including building Jones Beach and the 1939 World’s Fair. But his own absolute power–he answered to no one on the city or state level–got the better of him. By the time the ’60s rolled around, his 1930s utopian ideal of a “Futurama” dominated by the automobile had obviously clouded his better judgment. Finally, Jane Jacobs the the people of Greenwich Village were the ones to topple him from his throne. I think Frances Perkins pretty much summed him up in her famous quote, “he loves the public but hates people”.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Like my nom de plume, Moses’ greatest contribution was in the exercise of power not in the relative wisdom or stupidity of what he did. In retrospect a lot of it looks stupid but we are looking at it from an urban life advocacy perspective. Clearly he shifted real estate value from the urban core to the suburbs and exurbs. The BQE example above basically transferred value from Brooklyn to Staten Island and Jersey. Political power tranferred with the real estate value so that today the suburbs exercise and control the government of New York State.

    Now, as many of Moses’ projects reach the end of their useful life power must again be exercised. Despite knowing a lot more about the effects of these transportation projects today there is an additionally more complex political system because of the transfer of power out of the city.

    The same corridor referenced above (BQE-Gowanus-Prospect-Belt-Verrezano Approach) is in desperate need of replacement. All of Brooklyn wants to tunnel it. Tunneling it allows the city to recoup the economic use of the enormous space taken from the city to access the suburbs. Just the long term maintenance cost savings for a tunnel can justify it. But the question arises how to pay for the tunnel? A toll on the road would do the job but to push a toll through the state government will require negotiating with the suburbs.

    So we are faced with a problem not only of the political system selecting a really good plan to rebuild Moses’ really bad plan but of who and how will it be paid for. Given the dispersal of power in the burbs and Staten Island I am very pessimistic for a positive plan.

    Also, whatever plan is worked will require a long time to make it happen. The city has further weakened itself in this regard by forcing its political class to live by the entirely standards of Rich Kid Ron Lauder and the term limitations he bought and paid for. The state and suburban politicians, without the burden of term limitations, are much more capable of positioning themselves in this power struggle.

  • Greg

    Thanks, boy genius. That project is not, as far as I can tell, planned by DOT as a capital project in the near future. Some work is planned in the vicinty of Cadman Plaza, though I suspect that’s a continuation of the work currently underway by Tillary Street.


  • http://www.triborough.org/blog/ Toby

    Nobody has mentioned the irony that Moses built all these roads, but never learned how to drive.

  • Jose Ruiz

    Where can I view pictures of the construction of the BQE? I am mostly interested in the the construction phase near Greenpoint. I have read that ovr 300 homes were demolished in order to build part of the BQE.