Moses v. Jacobs

Edward Glaeser recasts the Robert Moses-Jane Jacobs battle as a struggle between 1930s Progressivism and 1960s Progressivism. Moses was the bureaucratic rationalist, upgrading the infrastructure of New York City and State for the automobile age, while Jacobs was the romantic gadfly, preserving Washington Square Park and the West Village in all their shabby glory. Moses built highways and beaches; Jacobs saved diners.

Although history has favored Jacobs, Glaeser sympathizes with Moses as a highly effective implementer of sometimes wrong-headed schemes. “While we so often wonder what happened to our tax dollars,” Glaeser notes, “the products
of Moses’s spending are perfectly plain: they surround New York.” Jacobs is still essential reading for urbanists and she perfectly understood urban life. Her legacy is a revitalized New York City and a legion of busybodies throwing themselves before every shovel. Glaeser writes, “People cannot just argue forever on an unpaved street corner. They need
homes to live in and streets to travel along and parks for relaxation.”

Glaeser argues that cities need both Moses and Jacobs, highways and sidewalks. “No city can survive without the personal engagements beloved by Jacobs,
but no city can thrive without master builders such as Moses,” he writes. The cities that will be the capitals of the 21st century are tilting too much to one side or the other: Shanghai is too much Moses, Mumbai too much Jacobs.


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