A Town Revived, a Villain Redeemed
By PHILLIP LOPATE
ERICH VON STROHEIM was billed in his acting days as "The man you love to hate." For the last 30 years, Robert Moses has been cast in that same role, as the villain responsible for everything that went wrong with New York. Even those newly arrived to the city knew enough to boo when his name came up at dinner parties. Moses (1888-1981) lived a long time, and his impact on the physical character of New York City was greater than that of any other individual in its history.
This imperious master builder has seemed to many the embodiment of all of modernism's mistakes, gutting cherished working-class neighborhoods with highways, and more interested in big projects and superblocks than in preserving the past with fine-grained restorations. When, in my 2004 book, "Waterfront," I argued that Moses had done far more good for the city than bad - taking into consideration his many parks, beaches, bridges and other necessary transportation projects - and ought to be honored as one of its greatest citizens, a friend castigated me with a note: "Who next, Stalin?"