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August 30, 1962, Vol. VII, No. 45
The Fight for Little Italy
By Stephanie Gervis
Not since home and motherhood has there been a cause like the fight against the Lower Manhattan (Broome Street) Expressway.
It’s everybody’s fight. Politicians like State Senator Joseph Marro, an old-line Democrat, and his young reform challenger, Martin M. Berger, who are slugging it out in a no-holds-barred primary fight in the 24th S.D., are embracing each other over Broome Street. Barry Goldwater-legionnaire Rosemary McGrath and Paul Douglas, son of the Senator from Illinois, have found common political ground in Lower Manhattan. Loft-dwelling artists like Western painter Harry Jackson have joined hands with elderly Italian housewives to preserve Broome Street in its natural state.
Why? For city-planning expert Jane Jacobs and her roving warriors in the great fight against City Hall, it’s another trench in their Maginot Line against the dehumanization of the city.
For the artists it’s a battle to hang onto their low-rent lofts, which would be eliminated by the Expressway. For the neighborhood kids it’s a holiday, a chance to hop a ride on a bus or a truck and make some noise at City Hall. For their parents it’s a desperate struggle to preserve their community, their way of life, from the blessings of automotive progress. In the long view of history, it will probably go down as just another battle in the endless Holy War against the spirit of Robert Moses.
Who would have thought that a tired old roadway plan conceived by Mr. Moses some twenty years ago could raise such a clamor? Evidently not the city fathers, who can’t quite figure out what hit them. But experience should have made them at least a little wary; everything Mr. Moses touches is wormwood to the citizenry, and more and more they are refusing to swallow it.
Why should they, they want to know. Why should they sacrifice their homes for an interstate artery that would be of no benefit to the city? “All it is,” Mrs. Jacobs asserts, “is part of an interstate highway that would connect on the west with U.S. Highway 78, which is being planned for New Jersey, and on the east with the Bushwick Expressway,” which, she predicts, the good people of Brooklyn will soon find cutting a wide swathe through their borough. “The people of Brooklyn don’t know what’s coming,” she says forebodingly. “It’s all part of a huge interstate network, or how,” she asks, “could they get federal funds to finance it? They’re getting it approved a piece at a time so people
won’t be able to grasp the whole picture.” If it isn’t stopped now, she warns, “we’ll be fighting the tentacles of that stupid octopus forever.”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]