Chapter 12 – Robert Moses and the Creature of the Machine
The construction of parkways meant potential riches for officials, politicians and landowners. Previously low-value land would become valuable if it was needed for government construction. Foreknowledge of the route of the parkways was thus a valuable asset. Moses started some backstage conversations with important fixers within government and started to reach agreements for his plans. In late 1926, he announced that local people would have access to the plans for Jones’ Beach. The referendum, lost the previous year, was now won. By making these agreements with key influencers, opposition to Moses’s parks plans began to collapse.
Moses began to arrange for land to be bought up in Long Island for the parkways necessary to supply the new parks, which were already being developed by local conservation groups. In the meantime, Governor Smith invited the main Republican opponents to the plan to New York and wined and dined them late into the night. They decided not to interfere with the plans.
Moses’s trial was still looming, his main opponent being the Republican Governor of Suffolk County, W. Kingsland Macy. Moses continued to delay this through appeals while parks began to open. When his final appeal was lost in the summer of 1926, the trial went ahead and the judgement went against Moses. Moses appealed the decision and won, resulting in a retrial date to be set. This time Governor Smith appeared for the defence and lunched with the judge. The judge’s summing up was heavily weighted in favour of Moses and the case was thrown out. Despite appeals by opponents, the greater spending power of Moses’s government backers was to delay a final decision for four years. In the meantime, development of the parks and parkways continued, powered by contracts given to influential politicians and contractors and supported by a public eager for the new green spaces. The lessons Moses had learned is that first, once a project had started, and costs had begun to be sunk into it, it was increasingly difficult to stop it, and second, justice delayed is justice denied. But the key lesson was that his previous efforts as a reformer and opponent of the establishment was not the way to achieve things. His success had come from using the levers of power as an insider and this is how he would continue.
Given $1M through the Parks Commission, throughout 1926 Moses began buying up land across the state and started sinking money into opening up the spaces to the public. In August construction of the Southern State Parkway, connecting all the parks on the south of Long Island, started. Moses himself began to design the bath-houses, park amenities and parking facilities that would serve the thousands of people who would flock to the parks via the new parkways. Moses’s preferred designs were ambitious. His design for the bath-houses would mean that each would use the entire budget for the whole of Long Island. Despite opposition, Governor Smith was able to use money from other departments to finance the construction.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Foreknowledge is always a problem in cases where you abuse that knowledge for personal financial gain;
- Being a reformer is not the way to change things evidently. Changing the rule to the game is 10x more difficult then playing the game as it is currently played;
- Parkways = Highways under a different name: it was a stroke of brilliance to call them different to a highway in order to gain special powers rather then be subject to the highway act;
- Opening up the park spaces to the public was a brilliant idea: it appealed to the middle and upper class sensibilities.