The Disaster That Almost Was: The LOMEX

 

The Lower Manhattan Expressway, commonly referred to as LOMEX, was a proposed highway that would have run through Manhattan. Most notably crossing over the neighborhoods now known as SoHo and Little Italy, it would have started at the West Side Elevated Highway, then gone towards the I-7, before finally splitting into two branches at Centre Street. Masterminded by urban planner Robert Moses in 1927 in order to expedite travel between New Jersey and Long Island, it received a great deal of praise from contemporary urban planners. In spite of this praise, it could have wrought untold cultural and financial destruction. Although it was ultimately canceled because of public uproar, many of these planners, including Moses himself, remained adamant that the completion of the LOMEX would have benefited the city. However, as a modern Manhattan resident, I believe this not to be the case.

LOMEX would have detrimentally affected families and businesses living in the areas it was planned to run through. Construction of the expressway would have forced the relocation of approximately 2000 families (1) and 800 businesses (2). Many families would have struggled to find new housing of similar quality. Lower foot traffic could have caused the failure of many businesses in the surrounding area, and relocation could have killed some completely. This would have hurt the economy of the area and, as a result, hurt even more people (those who were running and depending upon these businesses.) Additionally, “many [Manhattanites] thought… [it] would drive an unseemly wedge” through Manhattan, creating a barrier (3). Barriers, especially artificial ones, can split up communities and lead to inactivity. Jane Jacobs, a dissenting urban planner who was an intellectual leader in the space of modern city development, speaks about this type of artificial barricade in her “Border Vacuums” argument (4). According to Jacobs, zones adjacent to blocking obstacles often become Border Vacuums, which are conducive “decay” and “[loss in] value.”

Not only would LOMEX have displaced thousands of families and hundreds of businesses, but it also would have hurt the vitality and attractiveness of the areas that it was planned to go through. This would have caused even more damage than is reflected in the aforementioned statistics. Alex Alexiou states, in her book <em>Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary</em>, that “LOMEX would have wiped out the pastry shops and restaurants of Little Italy, and then eaten up the lighting and restaurant supply stores clustered in and around the Bowery. Finally, it would cut across Chrystie Street, wiping out the shady park in the street’s center” (5). Without these essential parts, SoHo and Little Italy could not be the intimate, culturally and culinarily-mixed communities that they are today. By not being wiped out, the area was able to become home to exquisite restaurants, trendy stores, and beautiful parks – something a highway cannot compare to.  As a “Blight on the Community” (as it was referred to in an anonymous letter to an NYT editor), the Expressway would have hurt commerce, personal livelihood, and the areas’ desirability (6).

LOMEX’s construction would have forever altered the way of life for countless New Yorkers and would-be New Yorkers. As a member of Manhattan’s community, I wholeheartedly believe that the the ethnic erasure and financial burden that the expressway could have caused residents in SoHo and Little Italy is not justified in order to expedite travel. Had LOMEX been completed, lower Manhattan today would likely be unrecognizable.

(1)  Kaplan, Samuel. “EXPRESSWAY PLAN FACES NEW DELAY.” New York Times, 1965.

(2)  “NYC Officials Revive Lower Manhattan Expressway.” History.com. Accessed October 20, 2018. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nyc-officials-revive-lower-manhattan-expressway.

(3)  Fowler, Glenn. “The Urban Environment.” New York Times, 1969.

(4) Jacobs, Jane. <em>The Death and Life of Great American Cities</em>. London: Vintage Digital, 2016.

(5) Journalist’s analysis and quotation from Alexiou in Nevius, James. “How Jane Jacobs Won Her Last, and Most Famous, Fight in New York.” Curbed. May 04, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2018. http://www.curbed.com/2016/5/4/11505214/jane-jacobs-robert-moses-lomex.

(6) Dapolito, Harold Harmatzanthony. 1964. “Expressway Opposed.” New York Times, November 28.

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