“Europe had the luxury of having her cities bombed, we had to do it ourselves” was the saying in the post war surge in construction throughout the western world post World War II. For Europe, it was a necessity, almost every major industrial and urban center on the Continent had been bombed to rubble, and financed by the Marshall Plan, urban planners could rebuild Paris, Rome, London and other important centers in planned, methodical fashion, making the cities more efficient. However, within the United States, the centers so bombed out in Europe were unscathed, forcing American planners, armed with the knowledge of efficient city layout, a massive labor pool and intense government investment, began the process of urban renewal. And no one was more willing than Robert Moses in New York City.
Robert Moses was a bureaucrat, he was the NYC Parks Commissioner, who was loved by city politicians for being able to get things done without much fuss, on time and on budget. Perhaps no one has shaped New York City more-so than he. And in the post war- redesign of New York, Robert Moses took it upon himself to make the car the chief mode of transportation. The Henry Hudson Parkway, the FDR on the east side of Manhattan, and most infamously, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, were all created and built under his watch. He built almost every major bridge within the city, and the Long Island Expressway, opening up the Island for suburbs, like Levittown, to spring up as GI’s returned home from war. He built vital arteries for the city, that allowed for the massive sprawl and size of New York’s Metropolitan area. He also built within the city, clearing slums for the United Nations Headquarters. He was able to head the Public Housing department, and followed the ‘Towers in the park’ concept, creating almost 28,000 housing units in East Harlem.
There were consequences for all of Moses’ projects, however. The Cross Bronx Expressway cut directly across the Bronx, oftentimes separating customers from businesses, and business-owners from their homes. Entire neighborhoods were demolished, and were forced to move into the towers Moses had just built. This crippled the Bronx, and created an atmosphere that allowed crime to flourish as the source of income for thousands vanished. The Towers in the Park Moses created also were hard to police, earning them the reputation as dangerous, and spreading crime as opportunities to work were scarce. The highways, tunnels and bridges built by Moses also choked the city with traffic. Destruction of city icons, particularly the demolishing of Penn Station, shocked residents. As Moses moved on, and was forced to resign, the impact of his tenure was permanent. Parts of the City would be choked by crime for decades, and much of the city’s character would be lost.