Monday, February 12, 2007

Caro on Moses

You have to love intellectual celebrity events. C-Span instead of E!. People walking out discussing the finer points of the talk rather than what anybody was wearing. A waitlist for tickets and overflow rooms with closed-circuit TVs. Such was the case at Robert Caro's much anticipated talk for the Museum of the City of New York Sunday, when at the conclusion, hundreds streamed across 103 rd Street from the packed auditorium of the Academy of Medicine for signed copies of The Power Broker, briefly in hardcover but now only in paperback. Caro did not inveigh against the trifecta exhibitions, "Robert Moses and the Modern City." He had only been to the "remaking the Metropolis" at MCNY, which he called "fair and even-handed," not the other exhibitions at the Wallach Gallery ("The Superblock Solution") and the Queens Musem ("The Road to Recreation."). There was no calling out of curators Hilary Ballon or Kenneth Jackson, for the rehabilitation of Moses' reputation (although at least one person actually hissed at the mention of Ballon's name). What Caro did do was marvel at the creative genius of Moses in the construction of Jones Beach, a populist campaign and an effort to restore grandeur to public works; this was contrasted with the callousness and arrogance of "RM," in the devastating relocation of citizens happily living in the path of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in the East Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx. Caro is clearly saddened by the slum that East Tremont became when the highway sliced through it, because prior to that it was a well-functioning urban neighborhood. More comfortable with writing than public speaking, by his own admission, Caro made no grand pronouncements, no mea culpa for putting a black hat on the subject of his prize-winning biography, and no shift from his answer – "no" -- at cocktail parties when people ask him he thought it was time, in New York, for a new Robert Moses. "He had great accomplishments," among them Jones Beach, the Triboro Bridge, and Lincoln Center, in Caro's view. "It is right to celebrate him," Caro said, "but it is also right not to forget the human costs." Side note re: previous post: the Amtrak Regional 161 whisked me down to Penn Station arriving ten minutes early; the packed 6:03 Acela raced through the darkness and also pulled in ahead of schedule.


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