New York Stories: Jacobs vs. Moses Winter 2023

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In the late 1950s, city planner Robert Moses, widely viewed as an irresistible force, met an immovable object in architecture critic Jane Jacobs, when Jacobs joined those organizing opposition to Moses’s plans to extend Fifth Avenue through the middle of Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. After years of struggle, Jacobs’s side prevailed. It later thwarted Moses’s larger ambition to run a 12-lane expressway through lower Manhattan. The clash became the stuff of not only history but also myth and legend, treated in sources ranging from journalism, scholarship, and documentaries to TV comedy, opera, and even multiple children’s books. Both Moses, who did more than any other twentieth century figure to shape New York City’s built environment, and Jacobs, whose writing shaped how future urban theorists and critics think about not only New York but cities in general, are more complex than the myths and legends. So, too, were the politics of their respective projects. In this course, we’ll delve into the conflict and how it’s been refracted in popular culture, explore the work of each figure, and use these encounters to think about how cities are and should be imagined in societies committed to equality and democracy. Materials will include portions of The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s classic biography of Moses, The Life and Death of American Cities, Jacobs’s most influential book, scholarship on the clash, and cultural representations from films to comics to scenes from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 8-10
Class#: 1246
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on participation and coursework. Required work consists of occasional short writing and a 10 page final paper of equivalent work in podcast or other medium.
Prerequisites: None.
Enrollment Preferences: Anyone with genuine interest.

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