8. Was Robert Moses a visionary urban planner or a highly-gifted bureaucrat?
While Moses often cited Parisian planner Baron Haussmann as a like-minded source of inspiration, it was really the modernist Le Corbusier whose theories of urban planning as applied to housing and transportation that Moses most aspired to. Le Corbusier’s failed dream of “cleaning and purging” cities was a close cousin of Moses’ own “scythe of progress” mentality towards urban renewal.
With no formal architectural or engineering background, but highly educated at Yale, Oxford, and Columbia, Moses’ forte was not in designing or planning but in finding the resources to carry out grand visions of often marginally aesthetic value. His knowledge of the arcane machinations of government policy, the ways and means of bureaucratic administration, and a natural ability to manipulate, coerce, and abuse those who worked with him and for him was his true genius. His ideas about cities were always focused on vehicular traffic, and not on the messy business of pedestrians. As Moses was once quoted saying, “I like the public, the people… not so much.”