As billions for infrastructure flow from Washington, moving away from dependence on the automobile will require new cooperation between federal grantmakers and state and local recipients.
For good and bad, the New York City metropolitan region was torn down and rebuilt after World War II at the command of Robert Moses, a shadowy figure who mastered state and local bureaucracies, consolidated power, forced immigrant and Black residents out of their homes, and made way for major bridges and highways leading into and through Manhattan.
Historians credit Moses with preparing New York for the automobile age and facilitating the growth of its suburbs. They also condemn him for the human costs of remaking the landscape of America’s largest city.
Moses’ power was made possible by infrastructure dollars — by one tally, over nearly half a century he spent more than $27 billion in 1968 dollars, which would amount to more than $200 billion in today’s dollars — authorized by New Deal programs and allocations for the national highway system, and spent by public authorities across the state that answered to no one but Moses.
We now have the opportunity with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last November, to redesign urban landscapes across the country just as Moses did in New York, but this time moving away from facilitating privately owned vehicles and toward hyperdense mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-accessible communities.
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