Robert Moses: Power, Urban Planning, and Inequality
From urban parks to the interstate highway system and suburban developments (and the racial redlining that went along with them) Robert Moses definitively shaped the way Americans live. Equal parts city planner and social engineer—visionary and, according to many, despot—Moses became a household name with the 1974 publication of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. In it we read not only of Moses the urban planner, but also of the political structures and contradictions that enabled a single public figure to attempt—in large measure successfully—to reshape life in New York City and beyond. How are we to balance Moses’ public works with the anti-democratic methods—dictatorial, corrupt, and shielded from popular oversight—that tore apart the fabric of community life? How do these questions persist in issues of development, housing, and infrastructure today?
In this course, we will read Caro’s account of Moses as a study of power within local and state politics as well as a window onto the legacy of liberal approaches to governance in the 20th century. Surveying Moses’ achievements alongside their incredible social costs and the organized resistance they provoked—most famously by Jane Jacobs—we will ask: What type of economic, social and political life did Moses’ public works make possible? How has the development of infrastructure—a seemingly impersonal process—been linked to racial and class-based prejudices? To what extent did Moses’ reimagining of American social space pre-figure our own era of technocratic engineering? Does Moses’s effective use, and abuse, of power in the New Deal era have anything to teach us about creating more equitable living conditions in the present? Considering Caro’s responses to these questions alongside more contemporary studies, we will grapple with the ways in which Moses’ legacy still, for better and for worse, shapes the way we live.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 19 — December 17, 2020
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, November 26th.