If his enemies are to be believed, Robert Moses was the only cause of the displacement of tens of thousands of New York City people, the destruction of Coney Island as well as the South Bronx, and the loss of the city's beloved Dodgers to California.
He is held responsible for a variety of issues, including the beaches that were only accessible to the working class, the filling of public swimming pools with cold water to discourage black swimmers and a car-centric approach to urban planning that hindered public transportation and gave rise to the maze of freeways in many American cities.
On the other hand, he helped New York escape the Great Depression, pioneered suburbia, and pushed through most of the parkways, roads, bridges, and tunnels that give the Big Apple the vitality it has today.
Like him or not, "at least he got it constructed," said former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Moses (1888–1981) was a German immigrant who was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Both of his parents had independent real estate holdings.
Emanuel, his father, was a prosperous land investor and department store tycoon.
His mother, Bella, was a pioneer in the settlement movement, which involved bringing well-off volunteers into underprivileged areas to impart their wisdom and culture.
In 1897, Emanuel sold his properties and moved the family to an opulent house off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
By 1918, Robert had a doctorate from Columbia, undergraduate degrees from Yale and Oxford, and was eager to restructure New York's patronage system after Tammany.
Moses' suggestions for reform didn't make it far, but Belle Moskowitz, the chief aide to the newly elected governor of the state, Al Smith, was impressed by his brazen combination of intellect and idealism.
With Smith's support, Moses assisted in planning the consolidation of Albany, which served as a prototype for Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
With Smith's support, Moses was appointed to lead over a dozen state and New York City agencies and government bodies, enabling him to hold dual positions as secretary of state, president of the Long Island State Parks Commission, city and state parks commissioner, and founder of the power commission, which is in charge of capturing upstate hydroelectric power.
Additionally, he had final say over public housing projects and was in charge of all federal funding for New York City.
Moses amassed unheard-of influence by traditional horse trading and favouritism, enlisting the support of unions, investment bankers, and property developers.
He controlled a staggering array of public projects, such as the parkway system, Jones Beach, numbers of city parks, and dozens of pools, by capitalising on his agency' lack of voter scrutiny and long capacity for tax-exempt debt.
Moses was "perfectly equipped for the times," according to Patrick Foye, a former executive in charge of economic development for the state of New York who is now in charge of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which is in charge of the World Trade Center and the ports and airports in the metropolitan area. "Moses had to build bridges, tunnels, highways, parks, and more to meet the demands of an expanding New York and its residents, who also had growing incomes. And he fulfilled."
Roosevelt and Moses had a falling out in New York, but when FDR became president in 1933, partisan politics made them partners.
Although the New Deal had millions to spend on initiatives that would create jobs in the public sector, few localities had development-ready plans.
Moses was holding a shovel.
The Triborough Bridge, a three-span structure connecting Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, came first. The project, which had been started in 1929, had stalled for lack of funds.
The Triborough project was revived by Moses, the head of the bridge authority, and took four years and $60 million to complete, which is $10 million as much as the Hoover Dam.
The bridge authority was also unrelated to local or state government on top of all those positions.
Because of this, Moses gained control over tens of millions of dollars in tolls every year, which he used to finance other toll projects that in turn financed much more.
The Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Henry Hudson, and Verrazano-Narrows bridges, the Brooklyn-Queens, Staten Island, and Cross-Bronx expressways, the Belt Parkway, and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel were all constructed over the course of the following three decades by Moses-run agencies.
He was the brains behind the creation of two New York World's Fairs, Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center, and even the arrangement that took the United Nations out of Philadelphia.
He started working on public housing in the 1950s.
He built a number of high-rise buildings employing the tower-in-a-park design, giving the city's poorer residents gleaming new addresses but, according to detractors, frequently displacing more people than they accommodated.
Moses argued, saying, "I raise my stein to the constructor who can clear ghettos without clearing people out, just as I hail the cook who can prepare omelettes without cracking eggs."
In The Money
The "master builder" of New York employed 80,000 people and received 25% of all federal building financing during the height of his influence in the 1960s.
Later in the decade, when neighbourhood activists such as Jane Jacobs challenged the nation's community-destroying urban redevelopment, with Moses as a key target, his influence would start to diminish.
Only twice in a 50-year career did Moses abuse his enormous influence.
First, he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1934, losing to incumbent Democrat Herbert Lehman in a humiliating landslide.
The second, and more decisive, confrontation occurred in 1968 with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who wanted to collect tolls from bridges and tunnels that Moses controlled in order to reduce New York City's deficits and strengthen its subway system.
Rockefeller merged the Triborough organisation into the newly established Metropolitan Transit Authority when Moses objected.
Next, Mayor John Lindsay fired Moses from his position as the city's top federal funding broker.
The master builder ceased further construction. Moses spent his final years swimming and playing golf after retiring to his Long Island house.
In "The Power Broker," Robert Caro's thorough 1974 biography for which he earned the Pulitzer Prize, his influence would come under harsh scrutiny.
In the book's introduction, Caro expressed uncertainty by writing, "It is hard to conclude that New York would be a better location if Robert Moses had never existed." "The only thing that can be said is that it would've been a different place."
And, as per the John Cameron, head of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, a very different New York State.
In the fields of public finance and construction, "his tenacity and will saw no counterpart in modern history," Cameron told IBD. While many people today have criticised him for his authoritarian technique of management and carrying on business, his concentrate on automobile-supported mobility, and his apparent insensitivity to neighbourhoods and culture, no one can dispute the lasting impact he had on the framework and infrastructural facilities of New York state.
Age 92 saw the passing of Moses. His legacy has recently reemerged as planners lament the bureaucracy and political indecision that currently hinder much-needed reconstruction, despite his reputation still being tarnished for the severe toll his motorways and high-rises imposed on established towns.
The Port Authority's Foye wondered if Robert Moses would be successful today. "Naturally, he would. He was an excellent function Object and a leader used to using power in innovative ways. Moses would be familiar with the complexities of modern laws and would utilize his considerable knowledge to twist and distort the law to suit his own needs." A modern-day Moses would create political agreement and argue that large-scale government infrastructure reviews, particularly the replacement and rehabilitation of current government projects, take far too long, far too much time.