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Everything You Need To Know About Robert Moses, A 20th Century 'Master Builder'

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: The Beginning | © Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York/Flickr
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: The Beginning | © Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York/Flickr
Picture of Ismael Rodriguez
Updated: 6 December 2016
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Robert Moses, an urban planner who was absolutely in favor of automobile culture, despite an unfavorable amount of people who did not have vehicles at the time, helped shape the city of New York with bridges, tunnels, highways, and parks. After Al Smith, a good friend of Robert Moses, was inaugurated as governor of New York in 1922, an opportunity for Moses to obtain a position as Chairman of New York City Counsel of Parks became possible. Consequently, the production of Jones Beach State Park – which is six miles long and located southeast off of Brooklyn – came into fruition.
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: The Beginning
© Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York/Flickr

Six million people visit Jones Beach per year, as it is the most popular park on the east coast and was the beginning of many other great projects. However, this land was initially swampy and, at times, submerged in water during storms. Sand from the bay covered the land since it was too fine, blowing into the air and making the destination impossible to enjoy. Researchers were ordered to observe and investigate the problem, and as a result, discovered a plant known as beach grass, which could prevent sand from blowing into the air due to the way its roots grew sideways in search of water. Consequently, thousands of samples were planted on what we now know as Jones Beach.

Long Island Air Show at Jones Beach Memorial Day Weekend 2015
© Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Shortly after, Moses selected and ordered the construction of two large bath houses and an Italianate-style water tower. 10 years after the creation of Jones Beach, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway – a convenient way of getting to Brooklyn from Queens and vise versa – and the Triborough Bridge, also known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and which connects Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx via Randalls Island, were created.

Additionally in 1940, the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel began and was opened on May 25, 1950. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the largest underground car tunnel in the United States as well as North America, connects Brooklyn with Manhattan, which crosses under the East River. Roberto Moses’ connection with Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia opened a door to yet another important position. Moses was made Head of the City Parks Department and Triborough Bridge Authority. As a result, from 1946 to 1954, anyone with an architectural plan needed the approval of Moses. When the Triborough Bridge Authority merged with the Tunnel Authority, Moses was met with opposition from Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Roosevelt felt that some of Moses’ ideas could be a potential hazard to national defense.

Robert Moses Causeway - New York
© Doug Kerr/Flickr

Robert Moses’ power and influence continued to increase as a result of holding multiple government positions simultaneously. Although never elected into office, he began to make rather unfavorable executive decisions including the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which led many individuals and families to lose property value or lose their property completely. Some critics suggest Moses could have mused over other alternatives for projects that would have had less of a negative impact, and that better options were brought to his attention – which would have helped New Yorkers avoid that miserable traffic as we know it today. Because of situations like this, Moses’ reputation began to plummet. Eventually completed in 1972, the Cross Bronx Expressway is considered to be the most congested highway in the United States, and is the first to be built through an urban community.

Bronx NYC Ramp to GW Bridge
© pscf11/Flickr

However, Robert Moses was extremely clever, as demonstrated by his quick accumulation of power. His early innovative ideas and early conception and preparation for projects allowed him to always be the first to pursue open opportunities. Despite criticism, his accomplishments in urbanizing and contributing to the landscape of New York were great. Moses has contributed to 658 playgrounds in New York, 416 miles of parkways, and 13 bridges. One of Moses’ major successes include Central Park; located in the middle of busy NYC where it is hard to believe that such beauty can exist, it is the most visited urban park in the United States. Moses’ other successful endeavors include the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, linking Staten Island and Brooklyn; the Whitestone Bridge, connecting the Bronx with Queens; the Jackie Robinson Parkway, which stretches from Brooklyn into Queens; the Van Wyck Expressway, cutting into Queens from top to bottom, which eventually leads to the John F. Kennedy airport; the Throgs Neck Bridge, another bridge that connects the Bronx and Queens; and the Belt Parkway, which runs along the bottom perimeter of Brooklyn.

Central Park
© m01229/Flickr
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