Our new infatuation with old urban titans
Until recently, the titans of 20th century urban planning were remembered as tyrannical bullies. Why that's changing.
The actor hoped to direct and star in an adaption of my book
James Gandolfini acted in and considered many roles in his distinguished career, but there was one man who fascinated him, whom he never got to play: New York’s powerful master builder, Robert Moses.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of PowerBy Robert A. Caro (Knopf, 712 pp., $35) I. MANY LIBERAL Democrats have yet to come to terms with Lyndon Johnson.
Two days ago, I noted the element of nostalgia for the post-World War II era in President Obama's State of the Union address and its precursor, his much-hyped speech last month in Kansas. In his call for restoring the public investment and middle-class stability of those years, I wrote, Obama seeks to "demonstrate that more broadly shared prosperity, with higher marginal tax rates, is not incompatible with strong economic growth, and is in fact inextricably linked with it.
The New York Times’ profile of celebrated and embattled New York City Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, shows how getting things done in a democracy can be bad for your political future. Sadik-Khan has increased the amount of bike lanes by over 60 percent, removed cars from congested places like Herald and Times squares enabling them to become highly popular pedestrian zones, and cut traffic deaths to the lowest point in over a hundred years due to an intense attention to detail by her and her staff.
Jesse Jackson has never interested me much. I’m a little late out of the gate in commenting about Jackson’s latest diversion, analogizing LeBron James to a runaway slave in light of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s sputtering about James’ departure to Miami. I’ve always been a little laggard in dogpiling on Jesse. When I first started writing about race, I quickly noted a certain cognitive dissonance: everybody expected the new cranky black “conservative” to have a Jesse obsession. I never did, and don’t now. He shouldn’t be news, really.
I bought a folding bicycle earlier this year in the hope that it would help me solve an embarrassing personal problem. I live in New York City, but, though I love the people I live among, I just don’t like the place. I’m loath to move out, because I only recently moved in. I left a house and a yard in Westchester for an apartment in Morningside Heights, near Columbia University, where my husband works and where life seemed likely to be more lively. But then, I got here and realized that I hated the noise and the filth and the smell.
"Jane Jacobs not Marc Jacobs" reads a postcard making the rounds in New York City’s Greenwich Village, a plaint against the increasing "mall-ification" of that venerable neighborhood. But beyond her old stomping ground--where she famously stopped highway builder Robert Moses from building an expressway through Washington Square Park--Jane Jacobs’ ideas continue to resonate in the messy debates over how we move people and goods around our regional economies. Lately, that currency has been given a boost by Anthony Flint’s recent book, Wrestling with Moses, about the battles Jacobs fought with
Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City By Anthony Flint (Random House, 256 pp., $27) For urbanists and others, the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs was the great titanic struggle of the twentieth century. Like the bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, their conflict has magnified significance, as the two figures have become symbols. Jacobs is the secular saint of street life, representing a humane approach to urban planning grounded in the messy interactions of the neighborhood.