What we are fighting for

July 10, 2017
Jacob Lawrence, The Builders (The Family) 1974
Jacob Lawrence, The Builders (The Family) 1974

Imagine a New York City with multiple carFree ways to get to around not just in Midtown Manhattan, but to Harlem, eastern Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. Imagine a New York City where children play on the streets. Imagine pollution free and profit making trolleys that handled extra capacity, so no one had to wait ever. Imagine a New York that was bustling, diverse, alive and carFree.

You don’t have to imagine. That New York City existed. That New York existed until the 1920s and then rich men decided they wanted to drive their cars around everywhere.

You can’t create your future unless you understand your past.

Robert Moses has been cast as the sole villain of Complete Streets, but Robert Moses was not the sole architect of the car dominated New York.

The dream of a car polluting rich man’s playground was conceived and drawn up by the very rich men of the New York teens. The rich men that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in the Great Gatsby were real men who could create anything they wanted, because they had money. The type of crash that killed Myrtle Wilson crossing the street, that wasn’t fictional, that was real.

Myrtle was killed because she was jaywalking. She was killed, because she was both unfaithful and a homewrecker and was poor and that kind of person had to be cleaned off the streets of New York and excused with a lie, “He ran over Myrtle like you'd run over a dog and never even stopped his car."

The dirty masses had to to be cleaned from the streets, so that New York could be a real city where rich men could drive their cars fast and the workers stayed inside and only came outside to open doors, walk dogs and push baby strollers.

Robert Moses did not build the New York we have today, he filled in the lines. Robert Moses was a very effective piece in a game created by the wealthy. Other pieces were Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia the 99th Mayor of New York, and General Motors.

When we talk about what we want for our streets, we have to to understand that OUR  roads aren’t a single issue or about a single person and they are in fact old issues.

Street design is about people living, not just a means to get people work and commerce. The question of who the streets are for answers who we want to live in New York, what is the quality of life we want people who live in  New York to have, and what will be the future of New York and the United States.

A New York that isn’t multimodal in active transportation is going to be one where the rich live in the center and the outskirts are filled with poor people who go to the city just to serve. An active streets movement that isn’t actively collaborating with housing is going assist in a New York that is unaffordable and unlivable to all, but the very rich.

The New York of the first half of the 20th Century brought us the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat generation, and Dada, it birthed the people who would be part of the New York School and Abstract Expressionism. New York’s monumental influence on US culture is built on the class and historical diversity of its streets.

New York is an important cultural force. New York’s strength is its human interactions between family, friends, and strangers, which you cannot have in an isolated car travelling 45-60 mph. No matter how frequently you update your social media profile you cannot recreate human interaction. In order to continue this vibrant cultural exchange that inspires and leads American society we must continue the public discourse of interaction and everyone must be part of these interactions.

Complete Streets enhances, creates and constructs the institution of the street that is so vital to New York City and the entire US.  New York streets are living communities that draw people from all over the US and the world.

Tennessee Williams through Blanche Dubois stated, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,”  nowhere is that more true than in New York.

Let us support a New York where we make more strangers our friends and where everyone is welcome to the public discourse that is our community streets.  


by Teka-Lark Lo