Many of us may have used the Cross Bronx Expressway when heading towards Connecticut or Long Island. It may seem hard to imagine the landscape without it, but upon closer inspection, the history of the Cross Bronx is fraught with difficulties, devastation, and destruction.
Built between 1948 and 1972, the Cross Bronx Expressway was one of Robert Moses’ grand conceptions. This 6.5 mile highway exemplifies Moses’ particular method of planning as well as the sentiments of the urban planning field at the time. In The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro gives a particularly engaging account of one mile of the Cross Bronx Expressway which ran through the center of a Bronx neighborhood called “East Tremont” (Caro, The Power Broker, 851). East Tremont was a tight knit community, occupied by people who had lived there for generations: “To the people of East Tremont, East Tremont was family” (853). I imagine this to be the kind of idyllic neighborhood that Jane Jacobs described: one with eyes on the street – who would be willing to intervene to protect other residents in a form of natural community policing – one with public characters, and one with public trust. The people of East Tremont had everything they needed in their neighborhoods, including, importantly, affordable apartments. Suddenly, the residents were given notice that they had ninety days to vacate their homes, which one resident recalled “was like the floor opened up underneath your feet … There was no warning” (859). By Moses’ estimate, the section of the route that would run through East Tremont would require that 1,530 apartment buildings housing 5,000 people be razed, figures which, in Caro’s opinion, are surely an underestimate (850). The residents fought hard against Moses’ plan, proposing an alternate route that would eliminate the bend in the highway that would run through their neighborhood by instead making the highway run through Crotona Park, which seemed like a feasible and advantageous alteration (864). After a difficult legal battle between the Bronx Borough President, James Lyons, and Moses, Lyons and the East Tremont residents’ efforts were rendered unsuccessful and Moses’ plan was approved (NYTimes articles). Moses seemed to not acknowledge the devastation his plan would cause this tight-knit community, saying “There’s very little real hardship in the thing. There’s a little discomfort and even that is greatly exaggerated” (876). In reality, his project did cause hardships for the neighborhood, by forcing people to move out and by the disturbances of blasting the neighborhood for a year, in order to give the highway a level surface. A neighborhood that valued cleanliness was turned into a filthy wasteland, covered in inescapable rock dust from the blasting (887). Moses’ headstrong, idealistic vision that would not move for political sentiments and cared little about the actual people and communities in the area, perhaps were illustrative of the orthodox planning movement at the time, which was deeply at odds with the street-centric view of Jane Jacobs.
Bennett, Charles. “LYONS GIVES REPLY TO ‘POOH-BAH’ MOSES.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Mar 13 1953, pp. 29. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, https://search.proquest.com.libproxy.riverdale.edu/docview/112583493?accountid=39333.
Bennett, Charles. “Bronx Expressway Route Approved to ‘Demagogue,’ ‘Blackmail’ Cries.” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 15 1953, pp. 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, https://search.proquest.com.libproxy.riverdale.edu/docview/112760232?accountid=39333.
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker : Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York :Knopf, 1974. Print.
Sedensky, Matt. “BRONX UP CLOSE.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Oct 07 2001, pp. 728. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, https://search.proquest.com.libproxy.riverdale.edu/docview/91835550?accountid=39333.