Archives For Robert Moses

 

“Liberating Parks…
And Bringing them Back to the People”

A review of
Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.

By Alexander Garvin.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.
By Alexander Garvin.

Hardback: Norton, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

PUBLIC PARKS - Alexander GarvinAs one who has been experimenting for several years now with urban naturalism, I have a deep appreciation for greenspaces in which the abundant life of creation is not quite as enslaved to the best laid plans of humanity.  Thus, I was excited to hear about the release of Alexander Garvin’s book Public Parks: The Key To Livable Communities.  Starting with the definition of a park as “public open spaces that are available to all citizens free of charge,” Garvin proceeds to narrate the relatively brief history of parks (according to this definition), and to lay out a basic philosophy of parks that takes into consideration such factors as site selection, stewardship and finance.

Garvin’s account of parks is centered around the lives and work of two key figures: Fredrick Law Olmsted and Robert Moses.  Olmsted, not only was the co-designer of New York’s Central Park, but the firm he founded would eventually design and create roughly six thousand of the earliest North American parks, an undertaking that spanned the continent from coast to coast.  Although Robert Moses is most recognized as an urban planner who fought to modernize New York City and who inaugurated several key expressways across that city, he perhaps is equally significant for his quarter-century of work as New York City Parks Commissioner (1934-1960).  Olmsted and Moses were undoubtedly chosen not only for their noble stature in the history of North American parks development, but also because they both approached the task of park development as part of a larger strategy of urban planning, an approach to which Garvin is apparently sympathetic and also one that was perhaps the greatest detriment to his account of parks (as we will explore later in this review).  Before I dive too deeply into a critique of this work, allow me to emphasize that Public Parks is an elegant book, well-designed with many large, color photographs that breathe life into Garvin’s streamlined narration of the history, meaning and operation of parks.  Additionally, the book serves as a good introduction to the history of parks and to the basic ideas related to the development and maintenance of parks. Continue Reading…

 

“The Transformative Love
of a Place”

A Review of
Wrestling with Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s
Master Builder and Transformed the American City
.

By Anthony Flint.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Wrestling with Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took on NewYork’s
Master Builder and Transformed the American City
.

Anthony Flint.
Hardcover: Random House, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Wrestling with Moses - Anthony FlintWriting in 1980, Michel de Certeau characterizes two uses of the space of the city; one is the “panoramic-city” of the “space planner urbanist, city planner or cartographer” who have views of the city afforded by high places, where the details of life are no longer visible. Conversely, “the ordinary practitioners of the city live ‘down below’…they walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city.” These two images are useful when thinking about two influential figures who have come to represent contrasting ends of city planning in recent history, Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Just a glimpse at the cover of Anthony Flint’s new book Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City show Jacobs on the sidewalk, and there is Moses, looming large above a table-sized model of Manhattan, new highways bisecting it.

That both Jacobs and Moses made significant contributions to urban redevelopment while living in New York City in the 1930s – 1970s brings into focus their opposing approaches to neighborhoods in two large projects proposed by Moses and blocked by Jacobs. Wrestling With Moses centers around Washington Square Park and Jacob’s home in Greenwich Village, and the later proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (Lomex) in what is now Soho. First narrating biographies of Jacobs and Moses, Flint characterizes the two visions for city development as practiced by Jacobs and Moses best when they come up directly against each other.

Continue Reading…

 

“To See the Fissures and
Hear the Rumblings”

A Review of
The BQE .

a film by Sufjan Stevens.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The BQE .
A film by Sufjan Stevens.
Copyright 2009, Asthmatic Kitty Records.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]


“Listening has something to do with being willing to change ourselves and change our world” – Sr. Joan Chittister

THE BQE - Sufjan StevensSufjan Stevens’ new movie The BQE is one of the finest and most creative works of social criticism in recent memory.  The film, commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, primarily features footage of traffic on the twisting and often congested highway known as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).  Stevens intersperses other footage from Brooklyn (architecture, waterways, amusement parks), but his primary counterpoint is three colorfully-clad female hula hoop spinners, working under the pseudonyms Botanica, Quantus and Electress.  As a complement to the movie, Stevens has also produced a comic book in which the three hula-hoopers are portrayed as super-heroes who fight the evil Dr. Moses – a reference to Robert Moses, the progress-oriented urban planner who designed the BQE.  Stevens’ cinematography – presented in a triptych format – captures the winding, free-for-all insanity of the BQE.  In his artist’s statement about the film, Stevens observes that the twisting design of the BQE was mandated by navigating through an already-well-established city with a variety of geographical features like rivers, islands and tidal straits and by the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) politics that kept the BQE out of prestigious neighborhoods, like Brooklyn Heights.  As Stevens’ comic book illustrates in its simplistic way, the critiques that the BQE raises are aimed primarily at Robert Moses and his visions of cities designed around technological concepts of progress that pay little heed to the holistic health of humanity.  Moses, for instance, designed parks that were “fiercely antagonistic to the natural, bucolic and egalitarian…more prison yard than public park” (Stevens artist statement), and instead were typically focused around competitive, athletic endeavors.  Thus, hula hoopers serve to contrast these focused notions of progress – speeding ahead pell-mell into the future like the BQE traffic on any given day – with the circular motion of the hula hoop, a symbol of a recreational idleness (a la Tom Hodgkinson), which spins in harmony with a person’s motions and never seems to get anywhere.  Stevens further exposits the hula hoop in his artist’s statement:

[The] Hula hoop couldn’t be more at odds with modernity.  Americans of the 1950s were linear people, hard working and industrious.  They fought world wars, drove big cars, and built mammoth roadways in the name of progress.  Their popular sports reflected the same: baseball and football were competitive and strategic games … The hoop couldn’t be more different.  It required no teams.  It wasn’t competitive. It wasn’t linear.  It was philosophically personal and metaphysically absurd, a gratuitous recreation built around a simple circular tube of plastic meant for nothing more than idle enjoyment and exercise.

Continue Reading…

 

THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY Reviews
Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury

http://christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=7487

The wise Anglican priest who instructed me in how to go about hearing confessions closed his lesson with some memorable words: “I’ve never thought less of someone after hearing their confession.”

If only it were generally the same for biographies. Some people’s lives have a priestly dimension. That is to say, their struggles have an elevated quality—they are struggles on behalf of us all; their example inspires far beyond the circle of people who directly identify with their circumstances. In short, when the bell tolls for them it tolls for us too—somehow even more than when it tolls for us alone. Rowan Williams is such a person. And the astonishing thing about this biography—this confession, if you like—is that Williams emerges from it with a reputation that is, if anything, more positive than it already was.

It’s a commonplace that Williams’s job is one you wouldn’t wish on your most antagonistic blogger. What is the archbishop of Canterbury for? He’s there to represent the life of faith, more specifically the historic catholic and reformed Christian faith, at the heart of the English nation; to be a figurehead guiding the Church of England, its bishops, its institutions and its people; and to be a unifying influence on the worldwide Anglican Communion. When Williams was ap pointed, there was widespread joy that here was a man who could do these three things like no one else imaginable—a person who epitomized the grace, wisdom, faith and generosity to which Anglicanism aspires. And yet his first seven years in office have seen him beleaguered by controversial events, a constant demand for him to exercise executive power, and a standoff of mutual incomprehension between his office and the secular press.

Read the full review:
http://christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=7487

Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Rupert Shortt.

Hardback: Eerdmans, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

 


 THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Review of
Wrestling With Moses:  How Jane Jacobs Took On
New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/28/DDUV18TS78.DTL

For those of us who care about cities and why they flourish or fade, the accepted wisdom boils down to this: Robert Moses bad, Jane Jacobs good.

Moses lives in urban lore as the ruthless New York bureaucrat who forced highways through neighborhoods with no regard for real lives in the way. Jacobs is his antithesis, the Greenwich Village everywoman who enshrined the virtues of messy vitality in her still-potent The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Now there’s a book that shows how these mythic characters shaped each other’s work and reputations – a volume that leaves me wishing there was some way today to combine the best traits of both.

Read the full review:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/28/DDUV18TS78.DTL

Wrestling With Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder
and Transformed the American City
.
Anthony Flint.

Hardback: Random House, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

 


 The NYT Review of The State of Jones:
The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/books/review/Reynolds-t.html


The Civil War was not a simple collision of opposites. There was internal dissent on each side: Northerners who wanted to placate the South, Southerners loyal to the Union, and thousands of deserters from both armies.

In The State of Jones, Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post reporter, and John Stauffer, a Harvard historian, recreate the life and times of the bold Southern dissenter Newton Knight. An indigent farmer in Jones County, Miss., the flinty, blue-eyed Knight was conscripted into the Southern army in 1862 and soon deserted. He organized a small band of neighbors that used guerilla tactics and swamp hideouts to fend off pursuing Confederate troops. Knight’s vastly outnumbered group became a thorn in the side of the South, which was preoccupied with the invasions of Grant and Sherman.

Knight and other Jones County residents aided the North during Reconstruction. Although Knight was married to a white woman and had several children by her, he simultaneously had a long-term liaison with a former slave of his grandfather, named Rachel. At a time when most Mississippi blacks did not own land, he deeded farmland to Rachel, with whom he had a number of children who worked side by side in the fields with their white siblings.

Read the full review:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/books/review/Reynolds-t.html

THE STATE OF JONES:
The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy
.
Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer.

Hardback: Doubleday, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]