They rose up against the power—the old men tapping their canes—and hundreds of residents, artists, and community activists, with preservation advocate Jane Jacobs, forced the city in 1969 to give up its decades-old plan for Robert Moses’s Lower Manhattan Expressway, a sprawling superhighway that would have gone from river to river, mowing down everything between Broome and Spring streets and, by Moses’s estimate, displacing 1,972 families and 804 businesses, and leveling the cast-iron buildings.
Moses, Parks Commissioner from 1934 to 1960, was one of the most powerful men in the city. He had created more than 400 miles of highway in his lifetime, though he didn’t have a driver’s license. He had already destroyed the homes of more than 40,000 people with his Cross Bronx Expressway. Jacobs was determined not to let it happen again. She was a believer in going up against the “stupid, extravagant, and unworkable,” and the mobilization against the expressway was one of her monumental battles in the ’60s. As she told an audience in the West Village last May, “There is nothing like winning as a cure for the exhaustion of fighting for a good cause.”