Robert Moses

An Atlantic portrait

When huge government spending was inaugurated to fight the depression, commissioner Moses was one of the few officials in the country ready with definite plans for putting men to work. In 1933 Governor Lehman made him chairman of the Emergency Public Works Commission to develop a programme for New York State. The more important projects adopted were the Saratoga Springs Authority, which has reatly expanded that spa; the Catskill Bridge Authority, to provide a new crossing of the Hudson River; the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, whose new international bridge through the Thousand Islands to Canada was opened in August 1938; and the Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach State Parkway, and Bethpage Park authorities. Mr. Moses administers the last three, as well as the New York Parkway Authority. In addition, the State Commission sponsored Knickerbocker Village, Hillside, and other housing developments, and secured funds for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

An 'authority,' as evolved in New York, is an ingenious corporate device calculated to get things done while a confused people hesitates between private and public ownership of natural monopolies. The authorities administered by Moses, whether financed by public or private funds, are self-sustaining and self-liquidating enterprises, supported solely by those who use them. Set up by law for clearly defined purposes, the authorities are empowered to issue bonds based on revenue to be collected from tolls or services rendered.

After his election in 1933, Mayor La Guardia asked Mr. Moses to take a place in his administration. The only post that interested Moses was one relating to parks, but he insisted that a single, unified city department be set up, with one head; furthermore, that he be permitted to retain his state positions in order to coordinate city and state programmes for parks, parkways, and recreational facilities. This was not a new idea. As organizer of the Metropolitan Conference on Parks in 1928, Moses had developed a plan of this kind. Special legislation giving him the status and powers he asked was passed, but he also wrote out, on a single piece of paper, a four-year park programme for the city and presented it to La Guardia before taking office. When developed in detail it called for 1700 work relief projects and the employment of 75,000 men.

This was the beginning of a miraculous transformation of the city park management, which was in a deplorable condition after years of neglect, inefficiency, political favoritism, or plain indifference. Old parks were redesigned or rehabilitated, and new parks and playgrounds developed. Playgrounds have increased from 119 to more than 400. Ten well-planned swimming pools -- costing more than $1,000,000 apiece -- were built, and the acreage of city parks doubled. Then Commissioner Moses set out to recapture New York's waterfront.

The 'West Side Improvement,' for thirty years in the air, was achieved by covering the railroad tracks along Riverside Drive and building a magnificent Ringstrasse extending to Westchester County and connected with the express highway on the lower West Side of Manhattan. One may now drive from the Wall Street district to the northern city line in less than thirty minutes, stopping only to pay a ten-cent toll at the new double-decked Henry Hudson Bridge over Harlem River. Along the way 132 acres of new park land were created. A similar treatment is now being accorded Manhattan's East Side, where the notorious 'Dead Ends' of slum sections are to terminate in parks or join a beautiful East River Drive. Harlem River Drive, as planned, will complete the encircling of Manhattan with express highways and 'ribbon parks.' Other East River improvements include the development of Ward's and Randall's islands as city parks, playgrounds, and recreational centres. Both of these large islands are connected with three of the city's five boroughs by Triborough Bridge, and a pedestrian bridge will open Ward's Island Park to the crowded upper East Side.

Reclamation of Manhattan's waterfront is being duplicated in the other boroughs. In Brooklyn a thirty-four mile circumferential parkway follows the outer harbor to the Narrows, where it swings inland north of Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay and runs along Jamaica Bay. It connects with the Long Island parkways, traverses Queens, and follows the shore of Long Island Sound to the new Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. An extension of Hutchinson River Parkway will connect this span with the Westchester parkways and Merritt Parkway, leading to New England. Marine Park Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and the Rockaway Peninsula, was built in less than a year to give the city a Jones Beach type of resort at Jacob Riis Park. An additional mile and a half of ocean beach is being reclaimed in the Rockaways. This undertaking was made possible by merging the Henry Hudson and Marine Parkway authorities in the New York City Parkway Authority and floating $18,000,000 in bonds, based on the collection of bridge tolls and parking fees. An even more comprehensive plan contemplates converting the entire Jamaica Bay section of 18,000 acres, largely city-owned, to residential and recreational uses. Even Coney Island may have its face lifted if its concessionaires don't watch out.

The projected Brooklyn Battery vehicular tunnel and its approaches will complete a system including more than one hundred miles in length of new highways and parks. Inside this will be an inner parkway and express traffic system of which Triborough Bridge is the heart, consisting of three main spans and numerous viaducts and ramps linking Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, via Ward's and Randall's islands. With nineteen miles of approaches, all financed by the authority, Triborough now connects with the Long Island parkways, and the 'feeders' planned or under construction will completely integrate the system. Originally financed by PWA funds, Triborough cost $61,000,000 and was built so economically that it has since been refinanced by a private bond issue at a profit of $1,365,000 to the Federal Government. This bridge system has a capacity for 80,000 cars daily, and its tremendous success enabled Mr. Moses to issue an additional $18,000,000 in Triborough bonds to finance the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and its approaches.

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