Robert Moses in the Skyline
from Brooklyn Heights

By Heath Hampton

C.M. Stieglitz, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c36079

Robert Moses is perhaps the single most important figure involved in shaping the New York City of today. The city was changed either directly by him, in the broad, all-encompassing and sweeping public projects he is so well known for, or changed through concentrated resistance to his single-minded determination. Nowhere can both aspects of his influence be seen in conversation more clearly than at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Using Brooklyn Heights as a promenade, a place to “see and be seen” has been an idea since Hezekiah Pierrepont was an extant resident of the Heights.[1] However, work on this beautiful riverfront park did not begin until Robert Moses, “Master Builder,”[2] proposed a Brooklyn-Queens Connecting Highway in 1940. The highway was part of Moses’s on-going redevelopment plan for the New York area. A few of the positions pertinent to this redevelopment that Moses had included heading the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the State Power Commission, the State Parks Council, and being the New York City Parks Commissioner. This powerhouse of a public officer intended to use the highway as a means of connecting the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges with the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.[3] This, of course, much like the other parkways and expressways Moses had already constructed, was supposed to usher New York into the age of the automobile, and out of, the previous age, in which personal cars were a conspicuous oddity in much of the city. Many of Robert Moses’s projects still garner great public support and respect, his Long Island park systems, the Grand Central Parkway, the 600 or more playgrounds he is credited with, and even, though to a lesser degree, his massive demolition and reconstruction of the Lincoln Center area to name a few.[4] The proposal of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade did not have public support. It began as an addendum to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).

[Citimaps BQE]

 

In building the Promenade on Brooklyn Heights Robert Moses capitalized on a view that had already held people enraptured for centuries.[6] Coincidentally Moses was also a foundational part of that specific view of the New York Skyline. To clarify, he not only created a seemingly permanent viewing platform by which the skyline of Lower Manhattan might be seen holistically by the public, he also constructed FDR Drive and East River Park which form the base of the skyline as seen from the Promenade.


Despite a number of setbacks Robert Moses was an indisputable force in the shaping of New York City.[7]Throughout the course of his career Robert Moses built: “2,567,256 acres. [of state parks] He built 658 playgrounds in New York City, 416 miles of parkways and 13 bridges.” On top of that he was, “active on, and often controlled, the City Planning Commission; he came to dominate the city's Housing Authority, and he obtained for himself another new ''umbrella'' title: City Construction Coordinator, giving him authority over virtually every public construction project in the city of New York.”[8]


It was through these consecutive years with a great capacity to ordain change for the public, that Robert Moses irrevocably shaped the skyline and our perceptualizations of it. Not only by providing one of the most popular means of seeing the Skyline, but also by heading the organizations that continue to develop it.


This particular project, the BQE, was hotly contested and a number of solutions were proposed to better refine the scope of demolition necessary for its creation. Originally Moses’s engineers and architects wished to cut straight through the Heights and take out a wide swathe of living space. The relatively affluent neighborhood was able to gather enough support to prevent this. Moses, however, had dealt with similar opposition when constructing FDR Drive, just across East River. Eventually, after a few more peace-making efforts, he permanently countered opposition via the current model. Namely, that there be a public park built on the bluff of the Heights, and that they undercut the bluff for construction of the Expressway.[5]

 
 

Notes

[1] “Historical Sign Listings : NYC Parks,” April 4, 1999. http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/historical-signs/listings?id=136.

[2] Goldeberger, Paul. “Robert Moses, Master Builder, Is Dead at 92.” The New York Times, July 30, 1981, sec. Obituaries. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1218.html.

[3] Gray, Christopher. “Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Streetscapes - Brought to Us by the B. Q. E.” The New York Times, January 12, 2012, sec. Real Estate. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/realestate/brooklyn-heights-promenade-streetscapes-brought-to-us-by-the-b-q-e.html.

[4] Rothstein, Edward. “EXHIBITION REVIEW; Jane Jacobs, Foe of Plans And Friend Of City Life.” The New York Times, September 25, 2007, sec. Books. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0DE4D61231F936A1575AC0A9619C8B63

[5] see 3

[6] Lees, Loretta. “Super-Gentrification: The Case of Brooklyn Heights, New York City.” Urban Studies 40, no. 12 (November 1, 2003): 2487–2509. doi:10.1080/0042098032000136174.

[7] Dr. Andreas Georgoulias, Ali Khawaja M.Arch. “Lower Manhattan Expressway.” Case Study, Harvard Graduate School of Design, December 2010.

[8] see 2