The Man Who Remade New York
Three new shows try to renovate Moses' reputation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Robert Moses, the man who remade 20th-century New York on a scale
equaled only by Sixtus V's transformation of 16th-century Rome and Baron
Hausmann's radical reshaping of 19th-century Paris, is a hot topic
again. He is the subject of three exhibitions, two lectures, two
symposiums, and a continuing stream of press coverage that today's
architectural superstars can only envy.

He stands on a bright orange steel beam suspended over water, a dwarfed
Manhattan skyline behind him, supremely confident, blueprints in hand,
in a life-size photomural that opens one of the three shows under the
title of "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New
York." "Remaking the Metropolis" presents his major public works at the
Museum of the City of New York through May 28; "The Road to Recreation"
focuses on his beaches, pools, parks and the parkways that tie them
together at the Queens Museum through May 27; "Slum Clearance and the
Superblock Solution" covers housing and urban design at the Wallach
Gallery of Columbia University through April 14. The curator of all
three shows is Hilary Ballon, professor of art history and archaeology
at Columbia University. She has also edited the excellent book of essays
that serves as the catalog, in collaboration with Kenneth T. Jackson,
professor of history and the social sciences at Columbia.

As historical revisionism goes, this reassessment is probably overdue,
but the rehabilitation of Robert Moses is not an easy walk down memory
lane. The reconsideration of a long career of wildly contradictory highs
and lows has also had the unsurprising effect of awakening--or, rather,
reawakening--the kind of passionate debate not heard since Jane Jacobs
dealt the Lower Manhattan Expressway its final, fatal blow more than 40
years ago.