Robert Moses built as often with expressions and syllogism as with stone and steel. “The important thing is to get things done.” “If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?” “Either you want it or you don’t want it, and either you want it now or you don’t get it at all.”
They peppered his conversations and correspondence and were bellowed at rooms full of subservient staff, intransigent politicians and hostile citizens. The most influential and enduring of his maxims is undoubtedly: “Once you sink that first stake, they’ll never make you pull it up.”
More than the thousands of miles of roads and bridges and tunnels, the grand parks and parkways, the exhibition centers and fairs, more than the innumerable demolished homes and displaced families, the congestion and pollution, the social unrest—more than anything that Moses built or destroyed, this idea, get the shovels in the ground and there will be no stopping us, shaped the country’s public works ethos.
While his projects were largely confined to New York, his ideas about how, and why, to build persisted across the country. Sure, there were the acolytes who parroted Moses’ ideas of urban renewal in cities across America, but they fell out of favor not long after their patron fell from power. His ideas, on how to build, and more importantly how to keep building, persisted for decades after Moses was deposed. For almost 30 years after he was laid to rest in 1981, Moses’ spirit lived on in infrastructure.
Sink those stakes, and the money will follow for more. It always does.
Then, almost over night, we gave up the ghost. It did not start with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel—recall the Congressional fight over much-maligned stimulus spending—but that was certainly the clarion call.