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The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs Hardcover – March 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Apr. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Former New York Post journalist Gratz (The Living City, 1994) is a leading figure in the “urban husbandry” movement, which advocates, among other things, the reuse and adaptation of old buildings in an effort to cultivate dense, lively, and prosperous urban space. She is also a longtime friend and ally in activism of the late Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities continues to be relevant to today’s urban planning debates. Drawing on her personal and professional experiences, Gratz discusses the urban topography of her native New York City, as defined by the decades-long conflict between large top-down development schemes of the sort advocated by city planning magnate Robert Moses, and the organic, preservationist approach favored by Jacobs. 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. --Brendan Driscoll

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; First Edition edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568584385
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568584386
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,926,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By HistoryBuff24601 on March 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What could be an interesting debate, becomes an autobiography with an axe to grind. Roberta Brandes Gratz spends much of the book on her background and experiences which would be well suited as an autobiography. As an example, her mentioning an abortion had little to do with the story.

She paints Robert Moses and pure evil and Jane Jacobs as a Joan of Arc. While both points have some truth, she fails to provide balance or reasons why they are as she describes. Ms. Brandes Gratz writer did a good job talking about some of the decisions made in the course of history and the impact on today's city.

If you are looking for a book of a passionate New Yorker telling her story, I could easily recommend this book. If you are looking for insight into Robert Moses or Jane Jacobs, I would suggest that you look elsewhere.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Rowe on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Roberta Gratz is a veteran city-watcher, with a particularly deep experience of America's great experiment called New York. I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of the city as back-drop to her family's businesses, as a reminder of the gritty hustle bustle that did-- and still does --- provide most of New York's vitality: it's not just 'the suits' on Wall Street. Gratz, like her mentor Jane Jacobs, points out all the seemingly modest things about the city that in sum make the whole so resilient, always adapting. A straightforward and direct style makes the book a stimulating read, and reflects Gratz's quintessential New York personality: they care fiercely about their city.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ACW on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the ongoing war between the disciples of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, Roberta Gratz's Battle for Gotham provides a new shipment of ammunition for the Jacobians. Besides the guilty pleasure of Gratz's refreshing willingness to tell it like she sees it (such as describing Robert Moses as "probably the most undemocratic, arrogant, ruthless, and racist unelected government official of the twentieth century"), the book is a must read for all urbanists. Whether interested in either of the two protagonists or in New York City from their days to present times, you'll find this an inspired and engaging read. Clearly an important addition to the growing body of work on Jacobs & Moses, this book is much more than that. It also offers a distinctive Gratzian take on New York City while providing the backstory of her journey from copygirl at the New York Post to one of the most insightful voices of our time on such subjects as cities, historic preservation, and urban revitalization.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By LEON L CZIKOWSKY on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author argues that the construction projects led by New York planner Robert Moses, many of which was subsidized with Federal funds, served to diminish New York City to an economic low point. It was community activists, personified by Jane Jacobs, who fought these projects and solidified their neighborhoods. It was the movement towards neighborhood preservation that turned around and helped improve New York City.

The authors' home and her father's business were destroyed and replaced by a Moses project. She experienced the dislocation many others felt. She notes Moses and Jacobs had contrary philosophies on urban issues. Moses saw the city as something that had to be reshaped by government. Jacobs believed cities could be vital on their own without government control.

Moses followed the then current urbanism ideas of Le Corbusier, who proposed modern high rise buildings taking the place of older, historic buildings. Jacobs argued that cities should have a "mix use" of residential, industrial, educational, and play areas.

Moses emerged during the World War II era where expert planning on a large scale was seen as the best way government should operate. New ideologies emerged in the 1950s. Lewis Mumford and William Whyte questioned the emphasis on planning to accommodate automobile use that was prevalent in the large scale government plans. Charles Adams noted the racially discriminatory effects of slum removal. Herbert Gans noted how people value neighborhood cohesiveness. Paul Davidoff urged planners to listen to public input.

The author notes New York's current decision makers have not learned the lessons Jane Jacobs taught. The Atlantic Yards construction destroyed a Brooklyn neighborhood.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Katherine T. Wood on July 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a real eye-opener. Gratz's compelling, and engagingly personal, accounts explain much about why New York is the way it is today. So, if you've ever walked down an NYC street and wondered "How did THAT happen?" or thought "This is so great" you must read this book.
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