Research Proposal

The Myths Created around Moses and Jacobs

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When discussing the history of New York in the 1900's, it is almost impossible to not discuss the two urban planners Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Moses was a notorious bureaucrat who built much of the New York that we know today. He built several bridges, hundreds of miles of highways, thousands of units of public housing, parks, beaches, public pools, and countless other projects. He did it, however, while holding no elected position, and with no oversight. In these projects, he displaced hundreds of thousands of people. New York City still carries what many would call the scars of his projects.


Moses, then, is juxtaposed with a different urban planner, Jane Jacobs. In modern accounts of the two, it is hard to mention one without mentioning the other. The documentary Citizen Jane, for example, dedicates the first ten minutes of its runtime to discussing Moses. And, it is not just in documentaries. In the series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Miriam Maisel runs into Jacobs in Washington Square Park, where she is leading a protest against Moses: this scene doesn't really advance the plot but more exists just to introduce Jacobs. Such scenes highlight her profound influence in the city, and the way this battle has been immortalized.


It has not always been the case that Jacobs has been elevated in such a way, however. The Power Broker has remained the definitive book on Moses, yet never mentions Jacobs. Conversely, Jacob's opus Death and Life of Great American Cities only mentions Moses five times. This disconnect is what I am interested in exploring. If this Moses/Jacobs fight has not always existed, where did it originate? And, how has it influenced the American planning tradition?

Linus Glenhaber

Student, Columbia University

I am a First Year in Columbia College interested in majoring in either History or Anthropology—my interests are pretty much exactly in between the two. I am interested in combining my two fields of interest while looking at the legacy of notorious urban planner Robert Moses and his counterpart Jane Jacobs. I am interested no in what Moses built, but looking at myth created around him, and in particular the debates created between him and Jacobs. Through this research, I wants to reexamine how this debate was constructed and how it informs modern day planning discussion.