Robert Moses : the master builder of New York City

As a public librarian, and as with my brethren who are in other types of public service, there is a balance we navigate between envisioning and understanding the big picture:  the real reason for our work, and the actual effect it has upon the public. Sometimes, our work succeeds and invigorates us beyond our wildest dreams (such as when I teach a teen how to create a spreadsheet). Other times we question the often mundane task at hand (as when I analyze circulation statistics of our well-loved library materials).

In the graphic biography, Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City, the life and times of the powerful urban planner are vividly portrayed. From the 1930s through the 1960s, for better or for worse, he was instrumental in rebuilding New York City with a broad stroke and vision that emphasized modernization. Akin to the Haussmannization of Paris in the late 1800s which demolished much of the medieval neighborhoods in order to build wide avenues, parks, and districts of modern day Paris, Moses’ work in New York City tore up old communities in the name of progress, fairness and efficiency. He was a conservative utopian who reshaped New York, removing "slums" and replacing them with a brand of large-form urban planning: the expressways, the expansive parks projects, the United Nations Building, Lincoln Center, and more, as he razed smaller communities.

This story follows Moses’ life, from the discrimination he felt as an assimilated Jew at Yale to his death, and is colored by the politics of the times, such as Tammany Hall, the politics of the WPA, and LBJ’s Great Society. Jane Jacobs, is here as Robert Moses’ foil. As the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she shaped protests which helped stop some of the drastic expressway building that would have cut through New York, and would have negatively affected the quality of life.

This graphic biography illustrates the life and times of Robert Moses and how he changed the landscape of New York City. The illustrations are drawn using broad lines and colored using painterly gestures with cheeky drawings, such as a cameo of Robert Moses as a Macy’s parade float. The story seamlessly alternates between third person plot descriptions and choice conversations that dramatize the reasons behind Robert Moses' policies. This book equally shows how government's well-meaning policies can be progressive as well as destructive, and the influence that informed dissent and protest can have on unchecked urban development. This book is highly recommended as an informative and enjoyable read which is approachable for young adults and adults. It goes far to broaden our understanding of egalitarian policies and gradual attempts to fix social ills in the United States today.