Monday, September 27, 2004

Robert Moses, highway czar of New York City for decades, was a man ahead of his time. In his classic biography of the man, Robert Caro recounts one of the ways:

Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes ... was staggered when he learned confidentially that [Moses's] Triborough Authority was planning to condemn close to a square block of buildings ... evict their tenants and build a 2000-car parking garage [at an already bottlenecked bridgehead]. ... But at lunch with Triborough general manager Peter Reidy and [Jack] Straus [of Macy's] on another matter one day, the Traffic commissioner heard Reidy -- according to Barnes, under the influence of one too many -- mention to Straus "this garage that we're working on with you people."

Warned by a sharp glance from Straus, Reidy stopped talking, but Barnes had heard. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "They both squirmed around," he says, "and finally [Straus] said, 'Well, Bloomingdale's and Alexander's are up there. We feel we ought to have a branch up there, too.'" And then they revealed that atop the garage was to be built a seven-story department store which would be leased to Macy's. To his astonishment, Barnes realized that Moses was planning to use powers and funds of a public authority ... to condemn a score of buildings, evict the tenants, and turn it over, complete with Authority-financed parking facilities right in the store, to a private business.

Unfortunately, as I say, Moses was ahead of his time. Barnes was able to get the plan quashed with a single phone call to Mayor Wagner, who took about five minutes to withdraw his approval from the scheme after Barnes threatened to tip off the press. But that was then. And in 2004, with government efforts to clear inconvenient homeowners off the land from Connecticut and Ohio to Alabama -- for research labs, new condo development, and in one case, a shopping mall -- ongoing despite reports in the press, Dwight Meredith tells us that Moses's time would be just about now.

Meredith post via Avedon Carol; Caro passage from "The Power Broker", chapter 33, p. 742 of my edition.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home