Robert Caro’s Response

Robert Caro, he of The Power Broker fame, started off his lecture on Sunday praising the exhibition which challenges his pre-eminence in Moses scholarship if it doesn’t also challenge his interpretation of the city’s master builder. “I think it’s a fair and even-handed job.”

But throughout the next hour, Mr. Caro kept making subtle suggestions about how that exhibit, “Robert Moses and the Making of the Modern City,” came up short.

While the exhibit emphasizes the impact Moses had on “the built environment” without regard for his methods, Mr. Caro argued, “The way that Robert Moses left his mark on New York has to do with the way he treated the people of the city”–in particular how he diverted money from health clinics to his construction projects.

And to those who had found Mr. Caro’s subtitle (Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) to be incongruous with the city’s renaissance, he replied, “I meant that the city had fallen, not that it was fallen forever.”

And for those who feel the ends justify Moses’ means, Mr. Caro said:

For several years now I am constantly being approached at parties by large gentlemen, usually of the real estate persuasion, but sometimes from government–they come up to me and say to me, ‘Don’t you think it’s time for a new Robert Moses?’ And because I don’t want to argue with people at cocktail parties, I say to these people, ‘No!’ Which happily cuts the conversation short.

The overflow crowd jumped to its feet to give the guy a standing ovation.

- Matthew Schuerman