Originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “Playing in Traffic“, this article by Jack Hockenberry delves into the relationship between man and vehicle, illustrating the complex dynamic created in New York – a city with over 2.1 Million registered vehicles. Contrary to the car-centric schemes of New York’s infamous former Master Planner Robert Moses, Hockenberry argues that the city is the “negative space” while vehicles are obscured by our unconscious.
It is a curiosity of modern urban life that the more cars crowd into cities, the more they become invisible. It’s a great feature that comes standard on any model these days. Unfortunately we can’t control it from the driver’s seat—however much we would like to wave our hands and watch through our windshields as gridlocked cars disappear, liberating us from traffic imprisonment. The invisibility I am speaking about only works if you’re a pedestrian or bicyclist. The number of motorized vehicles parked or driving at any given moment on the streets of New York City is astounding. An estimated 2.1 million are registered in the city, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Yet we never fully register them visually when we’re walking on the streets. The city is the negative space and that is how our eyes increasingly navigate urban landscapes. Everything around the cars and trucks gets knitted together by the eye and, even though the vehicles are present, we have gradually learned to ignore them unless we’re standing in the direct line of moving traffic.
Yes, you read right – the 1960s urban planning battle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses will be the central story line for a new opera. Although the premiere is a long way off, its creators promise to bring New York City and the drama to life through song and an elaborate, animated, three-dimensional set. To find out more about the developing project, head on over to Fast Co-Design.
The following article by Sekou Cooke was originally published in The Harvard Journal of African American Planning Policy.
Not DJ Kool Herc. Not The Sugarhill Gang. Not Crazy Legs. Not even Cornbread. The true father of hip-hop is Moses. The tyrannical, mercilessly efficient head of several New York City public works organizations, Robert Moses, did more in his fifty-year tenure to shape the physical and cultural conditions required for hip-hop’s birth than any other force of man or nature. His grand vision for the city indifferently bulldozed its way through private estates, middle-class neighborhoods, and slums. His legacy: 658 playgrounds, 28,000 apartment units, 2,600,000 acres of public parks, Flushing Meadows, Jones Beach, Lincoln Center, all interconnected by 416 miles of parkways and 13 bridges. Ville Radieuse made manifest, not by Le Corbusier, the visionary architect, but by “the best bill drafter in Albany.”
This new urbanism deepened the rifts within class and culture already present in post-war New York, elevated the rich to midtown penthouses and weekend escapes to the Hamptons or the Hudson Valley, and relegated the poor to crowded subways and public housing towers—a perfect incubator for a fledgling counterculture. One need not know all the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” or Melle Mel’s “White Lines” to appreciate the incendiary structures built by Moses and his policies. As the Bronx began to burn, hip-hop began to rise.
Here is a video interview, produced by Active Living Network, with famed author and social activist Jane Jacobs. In 1961, Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a bold response to the city planning strategies of her time and the proposals by planners such as Robert Moses. She used her real-world experiences and observations from her own street in the West Village of New York City to comment on how people interacted in neighborhoods – which areas were busiest, safest and most conducive to living. In this video, Jacobs gives insight into how cities can bounce back from the environment created by the automobile through simple and affordable means such as “tree planting, traffic taming and community events”.
Read on for more after the break.