September 10, 2019

By Gonzalo López Martí - Creative director, etc  /  LMMiami.com

  • Marketing and its little sister advertising seem to make this mistake quite often: in trying to combat, say, tobacco or drugs, they unwittingly promote the use thereof.
  • Simply by bringing their existence to the forefront.
  • Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is ignoring it.
  • The Robert Moses paradox.
  • Robert Moses was one of the most powerful American politicians you never heard of.
  • His life’s mission was to turn New York and its surroundings into a livable, breathable metropolis.
  • He might have accomplished quite the opposite.
  • His field of expertise was “urban planning”: roads, parks, public housing and the like.
  • He was essential in the construction of an awful lot of landmarks in New York City and New York State: dozens of bridges and tunnels, miles and miles of roads, “parkways” & “throughways”, acres and acres of parks and playgrounds, airports, the UN building, Lincoln Center, Shea Stadium, dozens of housing projects, power plants and dams, many of them bearing his name.
  • There isn’t a single square mile in New York City where he didn’t leave his mark.
  • He was arguably the most influential “public servant” in New York state and New York City for a good three decades, until his retirement in the early 70s.
  • To be sure, Moses never won an election.
  • He ran for office only once with dismal results.
  • His leap to a national stage was truncated due to his bitter rivalry with a formidable contemporary foe also from New York state: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • Moses, nonetheless, managed to become the ultimate insider, plenty cunning to navigate the intricacies and red tape of policymaking while avoiding the meatgrinder of having to get the hoi polloi to vote for you every couple years.
  • A brilliant Yale & Oxford graduate, Moses started out as a low ranked yet highly idealistic political reformer in the 1920s.
  • A few decades later he was, allegedly, one of the most corrupt politicians in American history.
  • He was a brilliant, cunning, workaholic, self-promoting and self-aggrandizing megalomaniac with discretionary access to mountains of taxpayer dollars, among other forms of predatory monopolistic funding practices.
  • He pretty much brought the concept of toll booths to America.
  • The proverbial “turnpikes”.
  • As is usually the case with these larger than life individuals, he had as many lovers as he had haters.
  • He was a fervent, self-proclaimed anti-communist: he hated the “urban planner” job description.
  • It sounded too pinko for his taste.
  • He defined himself as a “builder” who “got things done”.
  • LOL: this was coming from a dude who never ever worked in the private sector and made a career out of raiding taxpayer coffers for the purpose of central planning.
  • He was wildly popular in his heyday but he went down in history as a functioning sociopath with utter contempt for the little people he was supposed to serve.
  • Particularly “negroes” and Puerto Ricans.
  • To be fair, he was venal in an odd way: strictly speaking, he was not personally interested in money and was never found red handed with said extremity in the cookie jar.
  • His obsession was power and he was ruthless in its accumulation -despite the fact that he also hated to be called “a politician”.
  • The titles he held sounded boring, toothless (commissioner of this, chairman of that, coordinator of some such) but he was able to maintain several key jobs at the same time for decades, regardless of blatant conflicts of interest.
  • He was in cahoots with political bosses and brokers, unions, contractors, banks, insurance companies, law firms, developers, realtors.
  • He kept them busy and profitable through the repeated awarding of scandalous non-bid jobs.
  • And demanded unconditional “loyalty” from them.
  • With timid exceptions, the New York City press lavished him with praise.
  • He was ruthless in doctoring stats and figures to manipulate public opinion, exaggerate his accomplishments and conceal his mistakes.
  • He retained a handful of PR firms and publicists and he allegedly had dozens of reporters on payroll.
  • He had a small army of “hounds” who dug up dirt on his political rivals and “moles” who gathered intel for him across all the nooks and crannies of the New York power ecosystem.
  • He was viciously vindictive with anyone who dared get in his way.
  • In the height of his career and power, he attempted to tear down dozens of blocks in Midtown and Downtown to build a highway that would connect Long Island with New Jersey.
  • Believe it or not, he tried to raze Greenwich friggin’ Village.
  • Luckily for New York and New Yorkers, his megalomania was eventually stopped by the pushback of a few determined community leaders who demonstrated that this was utter folly (his plan, allegedly, contemplated carving a hole through the Empire State building to allow for a few lanes of his pretentiously named “Mid-Manhattan Elevated Expressway”).
  • He was a cruel bully with no qualms at destroying communities, evicting and displacing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
  • If not millions.
  • Moses displayed a trait habitual in type-A personalities: he came up with the solution before he identified the problem.
  • The most common accusation he receives from urban planning specialists is that he might have crippled New York’s public transit system (subways, “el” trains and buses) for generations to come.
  • Many a historian blames Robert Moses for the decadence and blight New York City went through during the late 60s, 70s and early 80s.
  • He was THE most visible advocate of car culture and urban sprawl in midcentury America yet he never learned how to drive and did not hold a driver’s license (since early in his career in public service he was hauled around in a luxurious limousine with three chauffeurs at his disposal 24/7 in 8 hour shifts, courtesy of the great city of New York).
  • It is Monday morning quarterbacking, yes, but we now know that the five boroughs would be way more hospitable and livable today had Mr. Moses vision not been so arbitrarily automobile-centered.
  • Then again, it is unfair to judge the past with the criteria of the present.
  • Granted, he lived in pre and post war America: the age of the car and the suburb.
  • See, as brilliant as Moses and his teams of engineers were, they kept encountering a bitter paradox throughout their careers: the more highways they built, the more congested they became.
  • Sometimes overnight.
  • Was he fueling and incentivizing congestion or was he just playing catch up with a phenomenon he did not fully understand and therefore could not control?
  • Was it correlation or causality?
  • We will never know.

 

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