5. 5th Avenue Extension in Washington Square Park

In 1935, Robert Moses proposed a redesign of Washington Square Park in order to reroute its traffic onto a one-way circular drive around it. Referred to as “The Bathmat Plan,” the design would have required surrounding streets to be widened, forcing pedestrians to cross a wide span of traffic to reach the park. Because Moses did not consult the local population, tension between the Greenwich Village community and the Parks Department grew and growing opposition to his vision sparked a 1939 battle involving the Municipal Arts Society, the New York Society of Landscape Architects, and Citizens Union among other groups.

In the years following his initial proposal, Moses introduced several different redesigns, including the “Rogers Plan” in 1947, which called for the removal of the park’s fountain to make room for a “turn-out” area. Five years later, he announced his plans to construct two 38-feet wide roads that would flank the Washington Square Arch and run through the park. This time, however, the Board of Estimate shelved Moses’s proposal after the Washington Square Park Committee had created an oppositional petition with 4,000 signatures.

Convinced that the park needed a major roadway, Moses still continued to push for his vision. Although he wanted to improve the “functionality” of the area, he was also motivated by his intention to extend Fifth Avenue in order to increase real estate values for the buildings to be constructed in the redevelopment area south of Washington Square, according to New York Preservation Archive Project. In 1958, however, a number of notable individuals, such as Ray Rubinow, Jane Jacobs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Mead and Lewis Mumford, formed The Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic (JEC). Then in 1963, the Board of Estimate completed the legal process to clear traffic from the park forever.