Synopses & Reviews
In the 1970s, New York City hit rock bottom. Crime was at its highest, middleclass exodus was in high gear, and bankruptcy loomed. Many people credit New Yorks master builder,” Robert Moses, with turning Gotham around, despite his heavy-handed ways. Roberta Brandes Gratz contradicts this conventional view. She argues that New York City recovered precisely because of the waning power of Moses and the growing influence of Jane Jacobs, the pioneer of organic renewal projects.
As American cities face a new economic crisis, Jacobss philosophy is again vital for metropolitan life. Gratz gives an on-the-ground account of urban renewal and community success. Her writingat once personal, political, and instructivebreaks down how the impossible was achieved.
"The mid-20th-century showdown between New York City planning czar Moses and legendary community urbanist Jacobs reverberates down the decades in this meandering polemic. A journalist and member of New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission, Gratz (The Living City) views 50 years of economic and real estate development as a duel between the legacies of Moses, whose pharaonic highway and urban renewal projects obliterated neighborhoods, and Jacobs, who extolled urban diversity and disorderly mixed uses, hated cars, and championed organic, human-scale development. Through this lens, Gratz rehashes Jacobs's defeat of Moses's Manhattan expressway schemes, examines New York's (anti-)industrial policies and historical preservation laws, and attacks what she sees as latter-day boondoggles like Brooklyn's proposed mammoth Atlantic Yards development and Columbia University's expansion. The avowedly partisan author despises Moses as 'arrogant' and 'racist,' and sometimes cedes the book to Jacobs with lengthy excerpts from interviews with the late urbanist. Gratz offers some cogent critiques of contemporary urban planning (while also embracing a few, like urban farming). Alas, her exposition of Jacobs's ideas is larded with unfocused autobiography, and far less tightly argued than Jacobs's own classic writings. B&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
New York Times
"[A] profoundly personal account of Moses's bulldozer diplomacy and its consequences for today...[Gratz] writes eloquently of her childhood in Greenwich Village, and then proves her point...Readers might not share her conclusions, but can't help being impressed with her reporting."
Boston Review"Gratz's book is invaluable at demonstrating how a slow accumulation of bitter, contentious struggles eventually gained some traction against Moses's model of clear-cut urban-renewal schemes...She is utterly convincing about how vigilant we need to be so as not to lose any more."
"In her engaging new book, The Battle for Gotham, the journalist and urbanist Roberta Brandes Gratz chronicles Moses' reign and the unlikely resistance it sparked from the writer and activist Jane Jacobs."
"Just as the ideas of Jane Jacobs bridged the Left/Right divide, a good deal of Gratz's book appeals not just to the Left (it's published by Nation Books, after all), but also to Reason-style libertarians...[The Battle for Gotham] is worth reading."
New York Post
"[The Battle for Gotham] provides food for thought for the current crisis."
"Gratz's essential recommendations - an adherence to principles of considered, context-driven design - still stand, shored convincingly by a half-century of history, public and personal. The result could seem like several books combined into one, but with adroit narration it avoids feeling claustrophobic. The Battle for Gotham is an account of the past crafted to support a claim about the future; an homage to a friend who, when it comes to cities, happened to be one of the most influential thinkers of the past century; and a cogent argument for revisiting her ideas and adapting them to a different time and, inevitably, a different New York."
"Though Gratz covers a number of key battlegrounds - Soho, Washington Square Park, the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway - her account is less a blow-by-blow of such confrontations than it is a study of competing philosophies of urbanism, and a reminder that the legacies of Moses and Jacobs persist in today's fights over tax abatements, public transit funding, and expensive new stadiums."
"Gratz offers some cogent critiques of contemporary urban planning (while also embracing a few, like urban farming)."
Mike Wallace, author, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 and director, Gotham Center for New York City History
"The spirit of Robert Moses has climbed from its crypt and again stalks the city. Roberta Brandes Gratz - channeling her friend Jane Jacobs - is determined to re-inter him, not with stake or silver bullet, but with a rigorous accounting of the true historical costs of Moses-style development, and the under appreciated benefits of citizen-led, bottom-up regeneration. Its paean to urban complexity, coupled with its practical policy prescriptions, make the feisty Battle for Gotham a compelling and inspiring read."
Richard Sennett, author, The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities and The Craftsman
"The Battle for Gotham is a brilliant account of the struggle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs - a struggle for how New York would develop in the twentieth century. A meticulous researcher, Roberta Gratz makes every fact resonate; she has made this story matter for our own time, and for people who are not New Yorkers. Anyone who cares about cities should read this book."
Michael Sorkin, author, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan and Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at the City College of New York
"For close to fifty years, Roberta Brandes Gratz has - with tenacity, acuity, and brio - been fighting the good fight for humane and sustainable cities. Her latest report from the trenches is filled with tales of villainy but, more importantly, with an unshakeable and persuasive hope for a better future. Like those of her great mentor, Jane Jacobs, her prescriptions are both logical and personal, precise and visionary. This is a book that springs from deep feeling of love."
Jonathan Rose, president, Jonathan Rose Companies
"Roberta Gratz poignantly weaves her own life story of urbanistic exploration together with the story of the battle of ideas between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs to give the reader a palpable sense of complex urbanism. The result is an elucidation of how to make a better city."
The titanic clash of wills between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in the 1960s and how their dueling perspectives helped to define contemporary urban life
About the Author
Roberta Brandes Gratz is an award-winning journalist, urban critic, and author whose articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, Nation, and Daily News, among others. She lives in New York City.