‘Wrestling With Moses’ relives remarkable city planning battle

Wrestling With Moses

I recently read “Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City.”

There were many great lessons in this book, which I recommend not only for planners but for historians and fans of politics. The tales of battles between Jacobs and Moses were well represented in the book. Times have changed so much from the 1960s – I suspect that most of what Jacobs and her committees accomplished would be fodder for social media in today’s world.

Here are a few selected tidbits:

Dwight D. Eisenhower‘s manifest destiny to connect the United States with a network of highways. For all the great things that development brought, it created as many problems – including the huge national debt we now have in trying to maintain the roads. Jacobs fought against Moses’ plans to raze much of New York neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and SoHo in New York City to lay more highways. We’ve seen how highways can destroy a neighborhood and how many of the decisions on where to lay the roadway networks were often racially motivated – even in Richmond where Jackson Ward was bisected by Interstate 64/95.

Having been in journalism for nearly a quarter of a century, I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this quote from the book on half-truths, but it is a good one. While Jacobs and her grass-roots committees worked hard to discredit politicians and city planners, they often bent or cherry-picked the truth. To be expected, but if it works…who can complain?

I can side with this, for more than one reason. While NIMBY’s often have their hearts and minds in the right place, sometimes progress must be made (yes, I realize that leaves me not taking a side). The BANANA term is new to me, I like that one.


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