03 April 2008

It's Moses All Over Again

This paragraph in the Tom Robbins article in the current Village Voice got me thinking:

Essentially, current buildings-department regulations create a race between aggrieved citizens and corner-cutting developers: Neighbors have to muster all their energy to stop illegal work, while builders try to outrun them, getting foundations in the ground and walls up before anyone throws a red flag. Then the developers' lawyers go to work, arguing that so much money has already been expended that civic decency should allow them to continue.

That argument—"You can't stop me now! I've already done so much!"—sounded familiar. What rapscallion had used it in the past? I turned to me copy of Robert Caro's biography of urban planner and public scourge Robert Moses, "The Power Broker." Sure enough, on page 219:

[Moses had] the insight of a political genius, that physical development would help rather than hurt his cause—the risk had been magnificently justified. And he had understood the significance of that justification. Once you did something physically, it was very hard for ever a judge to undo it. If judges, who had to submit themselves to the decision of the electorate only infrequently, where thus hogtied by the physical beginning of a project, how much more so would be public officials who had to stand for re-election year by year?... Once you physically began a project, there would always be some way found of obtaining the money to complete it. "Once you sink that first stake," he would often say, "they'll never make you pull it up."

Robert Moses. Role model to today's developers.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

Ahh, so I'm not the only one who noticed that!

It's funny to think about how ominous that laudatory Moses exhibit felt a year or two ago and how appropriate to our current era it now is.