December 14, 2009

Washington Square Road

This image comes from a book currently on my nightstand, Anthony Flint's "Wrestling With Moses". In the 1950's, city planner and master builder Robert Moses wanted to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park to connect with West Broadway, creating an express route through the village that would be called Fifth Avenue South.
This planned roadway that would have surely destroyed the heart of Greenwich Village looks almost quaint in this rendering. It's notable that, for an extension of heavily trafficked Fifth Avenue, there are only three cars visible. Of course, if this terrible plan had come to fruition, the park would be filled with the sound of bumper to bumper cars honking....just like the rest of Fifth Avenue. The reason this never happened is the topic of the book.
Jane Jacobs, a writer for Architectural Digest and a longtime Village resident, organized a group of local mothers and started a movement which not only killed Fifth Avenue South but also led to the cancellation of Moses's biggest potential urban renewal disaster, the scarily-named LOMEX (Lower Manhattan Expressway). This 6-lane superhighway would have sliced through Soho and the Lower East Side on what is now Broome street, carrying traffic from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan Bridge.
Anthony Flint's book is a true-life David & Goliath story. Moses, who had figured out how to manipulate the political, financial and social systems of New York to completely redraw the way the city was connected, was unstoppable...or so it seemed. Until, that is, Jacobs challenged him, killing the beast before it ate the Village and Soho. Of course, we now know how this all turned out but the book is still a very compelling read given the fact that it easily could have gone the otherway, like in the faux-pastoral picture above.

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