Urban planning: top down or bottom up?

Three new exhibitions have opened up in New York about the controversial urban planner Robert Moses. Moses was the architect of the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65, the rather sad-looking remnants of which you see as you take a cab into Manhattan from JFK airport. Much more fundamentally, though, he was the planner who remade New York over the course of the 20th century, as the Washington Post today explains.

Moses’s style of decision-making was nothing if not top-down: he is said to have referred to protesters seeking to block his plans for an expressway running through the middle of Greenwich Village’s chilled out Washington Square as “a bunch of mothers”. A heavily critical biography of him by Robert Caro in the 1970s did much to establish that view, according to the Post. Both the Post and the WSJ this morning contrast Moses’s approach with that of Jane Jacobs, author of The Life and Death of American Cities, who favoured a more bottom-up view of urban planning that would find much to like in today’s agendas of street liveability. Continue reading