Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #4

Robert Moses (1888 – 1981)


The most powerful and the most polarizing political figure in New York City history, Robert Moses was known as “the master builder” and “the power broker” and did more than anyone else to change the urban landscape. Holding 12 government positions simultaneously, including Parks Commissioner, Street Commissioner, Housing Commissioner, Construction Coordinator, and Head of the Public Works Project, Moses may be the most exemplary representative of the movers and shakers of the city whose accomplishments did equal parts good and harm. With the Triborough Bridge in 1936, he reopened cement factories from Maine to Mississippi in the middle of the Great Depression and provided 31-million man hours of work for laborers across the nation. With the Cross Bronx Expressway in 1955, he devastated several neighborhoods (most notably East Tremont) throughout the borough, uprooting and displacing thousands of families, and leading directly to the urban blight of the 1970’s. Between these bookends, he masterminded the construction of Astoria Park Swimming Pool, the BQE, Lincoln Center, the Staten Island Expressway, the Whitestone Bridge, and many other projects. His power and progress went unchecked until a group of grassroots activists led by Jane Jacobs defeated his proposal for a Downtown Manhattan Expressway that would have destroyed Chinatown, Soho, and Greenwich Village.


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