Robert Moses wove enduring racism into New York's urban fabric

Robert Moses gets remembered as the father of New York's modern urban plan, the "master builder" who led the proliferation of public benefit corporations, gave NYC its UN buildings and World's Fairs, and the New Deal renaissance of the city: he was also an avowed racist who did everything he could to punish and exclude people of color who lived in New York, and the legacy of his architecture-level discrimination lives on in the city today.

Last December, Daniel Kolitz wrote a cover story for Hopes and Fears reminding us of Moses's public declarations about the racist character of the streets, buildings and infrastructure he planned, like his rationale for putting still-fatal low bridges over the Long Island Parkway to keep urban black people from traveling by bus to the de-facto whites-only beaches he built; or his decision to put his legendary parks, pools and playgrounds as far as possible from black neighborhoods (the one pool he did install within walking distance of a black neighborhood was kept "deliberately icy" because Moses had heard that black people wouldn't swim in cold water).

Many US cities have similar architectural biases, and these, combined with the redlining that excluded black people from owning homes or moving to new neighborhoods (a practice that also pays dividends to whites, at the expense of black people, to this day), and the American city begins to resemble a machine for stripping black people of prosperity, dignity, and comfort, and reallocating their share of all three to whites, especially rich ones.

Moses's discriminatory activity wasn't limited to Long Island. As Parks Commissioner of New York City, he imported his racist building methods to an area dense with people of color in need of relief from overcrowded neighborhoods. Almost all of Moses's public works projects—among them Jacob Riis Park, Alley Pond, and Riverside Park, as well as 255 of the 256 playgrounds he built in the 1930s—were placed out of reach of the poor, and, as Caro points out, the one pool built anywhere near a black or Hispanic neighborhood was kept at a "deliberately icy" temperature, because "Moses was convinced that Negroes did not like cold water." And as Schindler points out in her paper, Moses also went out of his way to clog Harlem with cars: He placed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge's exit ramp there, when the sensible location would have been the Upper East Side, as almost all traffic at that time came from below 100th street. As a consequence, wealthier neighborhoods remained untouched by traffic, while Harlem's streets were overrun with bridge-bound vehicles.

The lingering effects of NYC's racist city planning
[Daniel Kolitz/Hopes and Fears]

(Image: Aymann Ismail/Hopes and Fears]

(via We Make Money Not Art)