Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Moses Lead Them to High Rise Apartments

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Moses Lead Them to High Rise Apartments

The recent Robert Moses exhibits in several New York museums were fascinating to this former Planning Commissioner and “policy wonk” for the past 22 years with the Pennsylvania legislature. It was intriguing reading the current critical comments that challenged the essence of what I was taught three decades ago regarding City Planning. Then, Robert Moses was then demonized by many in academia. History now sheds different insights into the results of his works.

Some of these attempts to reconcile the benefits of what were built with the politics and attitudes of the 1920s through 1970s are insightful. It is worthwhile acknowledging that he was a master builder who had abilities to attain and achieve power to negotiate for his desired results of public projects, highways, parks, and Jones Beach. This requires balancing with the limitations of that lack of knowledge in Moses’ days about the uncertainties of what externalities and unintended consequences would result along with the shameful racial attitudes that admittedly were more prevalent then.

Robert Moses was a public official who got things done, although not only want he wanted. The democratic process rightfully prevents anyone from gaining all they seek. Often, in Moses’ instances, getting many things accomplished created better results than doing little. The inability of some cities to respond to oncoming crises has led them relatively worse off today compared to New York City. Still, we also must recognize that a lot of what Robert Moses did was wrong. I state this not to fault Robert Moses. I doubt he sought to make mistakes. He definitely did not have the benefit of foresight that we in hindsight have. Still, this does not change the result that, in my opinion, some of his policy decisions were wrong.

One of the grandest mistakes Robert Moses made is echoed in most low income projects of his times. The turn to high rise housing for low income people was, and still is, a major error. Clearing blight was, and remains, positive actions. Yet, not providing adequate housing for those displaced was, and remains, unconscionable. Taking such action against low income people who mostly lacked the political power to defend themselves against this neglect was, and remains, cruelty at its worse.

Creating high rise projects were relatively inexpensive attempts to addressing low income peoples’ housing needs. On the positive side, Robert Moses and New York officials recognized that providing parks would provide some relief to people crowded into high rise projects. Many other cities failed to recognize the value of parks.

High rise projects were perceived by many of their residents as unattractive and depressing placed to live. Living there created a negative stigma that remained with subsequent generations. The buildings created, for some, a lack of self-respect that led to a lack of respect for the physical buildings. There was less of a desire for building upkeep and communal living left much to disrepair. The negative attitudes of residents sometimes led to vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc.

The parks, while allowing some fresh air outlet, also became extended targets of vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc. Some saw them not as social center yet as opportunities for gathering for criminal behavior. Many parks became, and remain, areas of drug dealing and violent behavior.

While planners may not have fully recognized this then, a better solution was, and remains, to have built a system of low rise buildings along the boundaries and interiors of these parks and low income areas and maintained courtyards within the system of low rises.

It is just as easy to fit as many apartments in a system of connecting low rises then in a high rise building. Low rise buildings are generally more attractive to residents. They thus are more alluring and less depressing in which to reside. Further, the fewer floors are more conducive to neighboring and generating community spirit. This creates greater respect and pride for the quality of each others’ residences. Low rise buildings tend to be better maintained and tend to have less vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc.

Low rise apartments with large exterior borders allow for courtyards serving as interior park areas. Being surrounded by apartments viewing them, these courtyards are more easily communally policed. With the additional benefit that low rise apartments tend to foster a greater communal spirit, children and teenagers grow up and can play in courtyards with better supervision. This community supervision also greatly reduces drug dealing, criminal behavior, and general mischief. Further, these courtyards tend to be better respected and less prone than larger parks to being vandalized.

A system of low rise apartments with courtyards does not solve all low income housing problems. Nor do we find that all high rise tenant living bad. Overall, what I recommend is what I believe is preferable. Robert Moses deserves credit for realizing the beneficial association of residential living with convenient park activities. What is needed is to more effectively implement this convergence of home and environment.


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