Robert Moses: Master Builder of New York City

The cover illustration for this comic makes Robert Moses look demonic, which given his reputation, doesn’t shock me. It chronicles his upper-class boyhood to his metamorphosis into the city’s biggest vampire, sucking the blood from neck of New York. The book tries to create a balanced image of Robert Moses, including his great contributions and his catastrophic destructive habits. In the end, his mega-callousness wins out. Try as you might, you can’t make this guy look good.

robert-moses

Despite making Robert Moses look like the domineering bulldozer that he was, the book is unbiased and even in its portrayal. He did care about the health of the city, which is why he pushed for the creation of the city’s beaches. It was better to have a decent beach, he thought, than to have kids jump off the docks and into the river. He also built swimming pools, which for the average working class New Yorker had previously been out of reach. That alone is wonderful. He built bridges to connect the boroughs, and went under-budget. That’s great. He emptied several decaying square blocks, on both the Upper West Side and the East 14’s, to build co-op complexes. That’s sort of good. He put in restrictive covenants to keep African Americans out. That’s not good. Then he plowed up whole neighborhoods to build a highway through the Bronx. I’m sorry, but that’s bad.

Olivier Balez, a French comics artist, creates brilliant artwork, with realistic drawings and bright colors. When necessary, the artist uses slightly muted colors to evoke the mood of the era. Great artwork, great writing, I’ll call this a great book about a horrible guy. If you’re interested in learning more about Robert Moses, I would also recommend watching the Channel 13 documentary The World That Moses Built. It has interviews with the people who lived in the neighborhoods that he bulldozed for the Cross Bronx Expressway.

There is one thing missing from this book, and that is an explanation of the financing. Moses’ bridges, tunnels, pools, and beaches were often financed with bonds, and the profits financed his other efforts. An illustration of this process would’ve been welcome

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