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Wednesday, 24 August 2005
Robert Moses
Topic: New York / Commack
A couple weeks ago Takotron made the long return to Long Island to visit family and friends. One positive feature of HQ LI, only applicable in the summertime, is it's proximity to the beaches. To the North is the Long Island Sound and Sunken Meadow State Park, and to the South the equally poetically- named Fire Island.

Long Island is a heap of refuse that Ice Age glaciers left at the end of their descent. Over the thousands of years since, barrier islands formed off the south shore, among them Fire Island. There are a number of geological explanations for the common presence of such islands in coastal regions. In general, they separate a main land from the ocean, with a marsh or lagoon area in between (right). Here's a summary of existing theories for their formation by some Army geologists: PDF

Long Island's barrier islands remained disconnected and remote until the 1920s and 30s, when Parks Commissioner and master builder Robert Moses began executing his dramatic developments across Long Island and New York City. The creation of the south shore beaches is undeniably successful--he built coastal highways and bridges to make Fire Island and, to the West, Jones beach, accessible to the public. But before reporting on our Robert Moses State Park beach paradisiacal romp, let us say a few things about the controversial mastermind.

Robert Moses (left) was born in NYC, to an upper-class Jewish family, and received university degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Columbia. In the 20s he became an unnofficial advisor to Governor Alfred Smith, and later held the official position of Parks Commissioner, remaining in power through the 60s. During his reign he forever changed the shape of NYC and LI. Among the numerous NY civil accomplishments he is responsible for are the Throgs Neck, Whitestone, and Verrazano bridges; the Cross Bronx, Brooklyn-Queens, and notorious Long Island Expressways; the Belt, Northern State, and Southern State Parkways; the Lincoln Tunnel; Shea Stadium; the UN campus; and 2 World's Fairs.

Despite his immense power and influence, occasionaly his projects met their demise. One of the more fantastic proposals he drafted was the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, a 6-lane highway across Manhattan, elevated 10 stories over street level. Linking LI and NJ, it meant to connect the Queens-Midtown tunnel to the East and the Lincoln tunnel on the Jersey side. Space could be developed around and above it, with buildings accessed via elevators rising through the expressway's meridian.

By the end of his career Moses was considered by the public with mixed emotions, if not outright hostility. Undeniably, through his volition, diplomacy, and strength he was able to connect the region with his expansive network of highways, as well as build a number of beloved public parks. What he failed to do, however, was accomodate the middle and especially lower classes, whom he almost openly despised. His policies purposefully excluded mass transit, which became his perpetual nemesis.
The LIE's overpasses were consciously built at a height that prohibited public buses; The Northern State was zoned to cut through middle class property while winding around that of the rich (from whom he received questionable funds); The Cross-Bronx tore through poor neighborhoods, displacing 1530 families and isolating the South Bronx.

Moses was also responsible in part for the massive suburban sprawl of the 50s. Proposed as vacation routes for Manhattanites, the major highways to Long Island immediately became commuter routes enabling families to move further East. The LIE was developed without a called-for accompanying rail line down the meridian, enabling communities to develop outward on an automotive rather than more concentrated pedestrian scale (right). As highway traffic jams became a daily nuisance, Long Island Rail Road use was nearly halved.

But growing up my family had some great times at Robert Moses State Park, just about due south of Takotron HQ LI. Earlier this month Agent Hotoda, RADM Townes-Anderson, and I made a special trip down there, and had a wonderful time frollicking in the sand and waves, getting knocked around by the violent, sublime, infinite Atlantic ocean (left). It was overcast and cooler that day, which held back the masses, giving us free reign over the beach (right). Notice the Robert Moses water tower in the background. The tower is a monumental marker, visible on the horizon from the Robert Moses Causway that leads to the park. At its base a traffic circle
winds around it, memorializing the car-culture Moses helped create.

More on Robert Moses:

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Mid-Manhattan Expressway on
Robert Moses, The Master Builder on
Robert Moses State Park

Posted by thenovakids at 2:10 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:22 AM CDT
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