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Who is Robert Moses?

Robert Moses was influential in building modern New York.
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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Robert Moses was born on 18 December 1888 in New Haven, Connecticut. His parents, German–Jewish immigrants, were successful real estate businesspeople and active members of the local community. While Robert Moses graduated from Yale with a degree in Politics and Economy, his inherited passion for buildings never went away.

After graduation, Robert Moses moved to New York City, where he tried, without success, to get involved in political reform. He eventually started working under the supervision of Al Smith, the running Governor of New York. The men quickly developed a good rapport, and Smith eventually appointed Moses as both Secretary of State and New York City's Park Commissioner. Robert Moses returned to his love of buildings by taking on the development and construction of Jones Beach, the nation's first public park system, and a series of massive swimming pools around the city.

After presiding over a few public housing projects, Robert Moses became determined to change the city's design and shorelines. He was convinced that highways were extremely important to the development of the city, and focused on creating toll booths, developing Long Island parkways, and overseeing the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. In the 1930s and 40s, Robert Moses became single-handedly responsible for all building decisions in the city. He ordered the construction of four bridges, countless roads, and 30,000 apartment units. He also organized two World's Fairs.

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Robert Moses's reputation started declining in the 1960s, partly because of his obsession with developing neighborhoods and beaches that excluded minorities, but also because of his disregard for urban areas and his neglect for urban transit. He gave up his post as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and eventually retired to West Slip, New York. Robert Moses died on 29 July 1981.

Robert Moses has been highly criticized for his obsession with making room for cars, sometimes to the expense of parks and historical venues. He is blamed for the ruin of Coney Island, including the closing of some of the amusement parks and the exodus of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ironically, Robert Moses himself never learned how to drive.

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