Monday, January 29, 2007

What did I miss?

The 7th episode of Ric Burns's documentary New York depressed me like you wouldn't believe. I actually saw it a couple weekends ago, but I didn't write about it because I was too emotional. And it's not even the episode about 9/11. This ep focused on the end of Fiorello LaGuardia's reign as mayor (he kicked a lot of ass), and Robert Moses's rise to power.

Under LaGuardia, Moses built a lot of useful things, like bridges and highways. But one of the commentators related an anecdote: one of LaGuardia's friends saw him in a restaurant, looking so down and sad, and he asked him what was wrong. "Moses has too much power," said LaGuardia. "But who gave him the power?" implied the friend. "Yeah," said LaGuardia, "but I could control him."

And that made the bottom of my stomach fall out. Over the next couple of decades, Moses destroyed a lot of old New York. And I mean destroyed. Sure, he built the United Nations, sure, he built bridges connecting all the boroughs, sure, he did this and that and the other. But it was all at the cost of people's livelihoods. Poor people, people who had no voice. The cross-Bronx expressway was a straight line that ripped right through the heart of an old, tight-knit community of Jewish, Irish, and black residents. When the old Pennsylvania Station was put on the list to be demolished...I had to turn the DVD off. I just had to. I couldn't take it any more. I was crying and I felt sick. I'd spent the entire documentary living through the history of this city and now I was watching everything being ripped up and torn apart. I still get dizzy just thinking about how much was lost.

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