THE question trails Robert Caro like a fly, buzzing in his ear. Over and
over, at cocktail parties and museum receptions in the past few years,
he hears variations on the same query.
“Doesn’t New York need a new master builder?” people ask. “Don’t we need
a new Robert Moses?”
Mr. Caro, 71, sits in his spare writer’s aerie high in a Midtown office
building, an owlish man with a faint smile. His answer has the virtue of
Mr. Caro insists he has always seen Moses as a complex character. But he
shakes his head at the notion that New Yorkers pine for a new master
“I don’t think there is a cultural shift, not at all,” Mr. Caro said.
“The culture would be repelled to see his methods.”
He caught himself and added: “The great problem posed by Robert Moses is
whether this city can build what’s needed while adhering to democratic
principles. We’re about to find out if we’ve solved that problem.”
The truth is, New York never was so paralyzed as the revisionists
imagine. Rebirth began even as the metropolis fell. In the 1980s city
officials poured billions of dollars into rebuilding vast swaths of
working-class housing in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The
Metropolitan Transportation Authority renovated the subways, and the
1990s saw the privately financed construction of a tennis center with
acres of public courts in Queens. There are the
capitalism-on-hallucinogens makeover of Times Square, the greening of
the West Side waterfront and maybe even the Second Avenue subway, along
with refurbished parks and pools across the city.
Whatever his manifold faults, Moses nursed a faith in the power of
government to throw up public works. He was a public servant with the
temperament of a czar.
And a book by his most eloquent critic ensures his immortality.
“Caro wrote a grand tale and made Moses famous,” Professor Jackson said.
“As much as Moses detested Caro, ‘The Power Broker’ has become his