Michael Sorkin’s event poster [click]
The panelists at last night’s fully booked Jane Jacobs-vs.-Robert Moses panel at the Gotham Center had had enough about the fawning adulation and fierce demonization, respectively, of the two icons, and came up with some fresh revisionist views. Hilary Ballon, a Columbia University professor who is curating a three-part exhibition on the master builder next year, called Moses a “symptomatic builder” who built whatever the federal government happened to be funding that day, no better, no worse.
Then, Richard Kahan, a former president of the Urban Development Corporation (now the Empire State Development Corporation), pooh-poohed the nostalgia for big plans. “I agree that we are no longer destroying neighborhoods and that we are trying to have a diversity of uses where Moses was encouraging monolithic superblocks,” he said. “But I still think we are talking about megaprojects, not bad, not good necessarily. They are certainly not destroying neighborhoods, but they are hardly in my mind on a neighborhood scale or paying much attention to neighborhood scale.”
Later, Brad Lander, the executive director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, saw the bogeyman of the Moses era being replaced by a far more intractable force. “Today I think it is hard to argue that the state, in the form of overreaching planning, is what’s responsible for driving the strains of growth and the loss of livability of the city, the displacement of people as a result of ever-rising real estate values, the displacement of middle-income people from Stuyvesant Town, the ongoing racial segregation of the city,” he said. “It’s the market that is doing those things.”
Soon enough, like most groups of people who get together these days, they all started bickering about Atlantic Yards.