If you are unfamiliar with Robert Moses, this image of a scowling behemoth straddling New York City’s immense expanse will provide a clue.
In the drama “Straight Line Crazy,” Ralph Fiennes portrays Robert Moses, the commissioner whose public works programs redrawn the geography of New York City. “Straight Line Madness”
This week, Ralph Fiennes stars in a play about Moses, which opens in a city that is what it is – both good and horrible – because Moses had practically unchecked ability to shape it for more than 40 years.
Moses (Ralph Fiennes): “I did what no one else could do, and it still stands, offering a framework for how New Yorkers live, a structure that will endure”
The British playwright David Hare’s “Straight Line Crazy” is presently running at The Shed theater in New York.
Fiennes told reporter Martha Teichner, “What I enjoy about the play is its provocative nature, that of a man who dares you to like him. He has done things for people and awful things to them.
More than a dozen major bridges and 627 miles of roads are included in a limited list of Robert Moses’ public works in New York City and elsewhere.
In 1939, New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses is shown with a model of the lower end of Manhattan and the projected bridge connecting Battery Park to Brooklyn. The $40,000,000 project’s opponents supported a tunnel beneath the East River. Bettmann/Getty Images
Robert Caro interviewed Moses seven times for his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “The Power Broker.” “One of the things you witnessed in his presence was genius. The other message you noticed was, “Get out of my way!”
“He is elevated to power by Al Smith, the first Irish-Catholic governor. He was the first one to consider Robert Moses’ views.”
In 1924, Smith, a popular, cigar-smoking product of New York City’s immigrant slums, began appointing Yale- and Oxford-educated Moses to commissions that allowed him to begin amassing the power necessary to construct an empire.
Moses, supported by the governor, initially focused his sights on Long Island. Moses said, as Fiennes dramatizes in “Straight Line Crazy,” “I’m in a hurry to help, to help the millions of people who do not have access to a good existence. And if in the process a few fences are broken, does it really matter?”
Moses used brute force to traverse the island and acquire property for two magnificent parkways. At the end of these parkways, he constructed his first public works masterpiece: Jones Seaside, a multimillion-dollar beach playground with parking for 17,000 cars but no roller coasters.
Jones Beach opened in 1929 with an abundance of recreational facilities along 6.5 miles of white sand, but was mostly available to white middle-class individuals who could afford cars. Moses ensured that there would be no train service to Jones Beach and constructed the overpasses on his parkways so that low-slung buses would have to take an alternate route.
The first of Moses’ advancement-related commandments: Drive. This necessitated the expansion of expressways.
“It’s like Picasso in front of a painting,” remarked Caro. He sees this entire area with any number of people as a single image.”
Teichner stated, “However, over time, whenever he constructed a freeway, it became overloaded the moment it opened.” “Did he ever adjust his perspective to reflect the changing times and conditions?”
“The answer is unequivocally no,” Caro responded.
Nothing hindered progress.
Caro recounted in “The Power Broker” what transpired when Moses tore through a mile-long section of the East Tremont neighborhood to create the Cross-Bronx Expressway, leaving hundreds of residents stranded in what appeared to be a bombed-out war zone.
Caro stated, “The human tragedy caused by just one mile out of all the miles he produced.” “He claims he is moving the people in a humanitarian manner. In actuality, he is not relocating the people. He is merely discarding them. He did this repeatedly, evicting 500,000 individuals from their houses. Consider what that is.”
Why did nobody stop him? They were unable. Moses was appointed, not elected, to positions of immense power that made him invulnerable to the eight New York City mayors and six governors he outlived.
Caro stated, “His influence in a democratic country had nothing to do with democracy.” With this anti-democratic dominance, he constructed the western world’s largest metropolis.”
In 1964, Moses stated, “We don’t pay too much heed to detractors. They never construct anything; no critic has ever constructed anything.”
And indeed, Robert Moses did construct things other than roadways. Urban revitalization à la Moses was replicated throughout the United States. He was a hero to those whose communities he did not damage, until he wasn’t.
His path was hindered by the iconic Washington Square Park in Manhattan. In essence, the park would serve as an on-ramp to his proposed lower Manhattan freeway. Fiennes stated, “Traffic would come down Fifth Avenue and then go through here, directly beneath the arch.” He would have utterly demolished the park.”
However, instead of powerless poor people, the opposition included Eleanor Roosevelt. Jane Jacobs, an activist, was a prominent and vocal member of its leadership. Jacobs proclaims in the play, “We need all-out war to halt this abhorrent violation that Moses is planning.” They did prevent it.
The 1964 New York World’s Fair, directed by Robert Moses, was a financial catastrophe. In 1968, he had been removed from power. He died in 1981, at 92, embittered.
Moses writes in “Straight Line Madness”: “And now, of course, it’s all the rage to despise me, since I’m the scumbag who pushed through the things democracy required but couldn’t give. People know this in private. They recognize my importance.”
But was his invention worthwhile?
Caro stated, “The city in which we currently reside is still, for better or worse, his city.”
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The narrative was produced by Reid Orvedahl. Editor: George Pozderec.