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Robert Moses and the Art of the New Deal

PART ONE of a two-part podcast series A NEW DEAL FOR NEW YORK.

In this episode, we look at the impact New Deal funding had in shaping the city’s infrastructure — from bridges and tunnels to neighborhood parks — how New York City uniquely benefited from this government program.

EPISODE 337 New York City during the 1930s was defined by massive unemployment, long lines at the soup kitchens, Hoovervilles in Central Park.

But this was also the decade of the Triborough Bridge and Orchard Beach, of new swimming pools and playgrounds, of hundreds of new building projects across the five boroughs.

Faced with the nationwide financial crisis, former New York governor and newly elected President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose to boldly take the crisis on a series of transformative actions by the government that became known as the New Deal.

No other American city would benefit more from the New Deal that New York City. At one point, one out of every seven dollars from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was being spent in New York.

And the two men responsible for funneling federal funding to the city was Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his new parks commissioner Robert Moses.

Moses amassed a great amount of unchecked power, generating thousands of projects through out the city — revitalizing the city landscape.

How did Moses manage to funnel so much federal assistance into his own projects? And where can you see evidence of the New Deal in the city today? (HINT: Pretty much everywhere.)

Listen today on your favorite podcast player or just press play here:


New York City, 1932 (Irving Underhill/Library of Congress)
A Hooverville in Central Park, 1932 (New York Daily News)
Robert Moses and FDR at Jones Beach
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Gov. Robert Moses (Photo by Bob Mortimer/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Orchard Beach, 1937 (Museum of the City of New York)
July 29, 1936 Astoria Park Pool
The Triborough Bridge as seen from the Astoria swimming pool, in a 1940 postcard. (Museum of the City of New York)
Aerial view of the Triborough Bridge, 1936 (Museum of the City of New York)
Article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1937 (Courtesy Newspapers.com)

FURTHER LISTENING

After you’ve checked out this episode, go back to some of our past episodes for further insight into this period in American history.


FURTHER READING

First of all, please visit The Living New Deal, an incredible website with an exhaustive catalog of New Deal projects across the country.


Robert Caro / The Power Broker
William E. Leuchtenburg / Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal
Amity Shlaes / The Forgotten Man
Nick Taylor / American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA
Mason Williams / City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York
(And our miniseries title is an homage to Mike Wallace‘s 2002 book A New Deal For New York)


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3 replies on “Robert Moses and the Art of the New Deal”

I grew up going to Orchard Beach on occasion with family and later teenage friends. It was packed on weekends but less crowded on weekdays. It had cookout -picnic areas under the trees surrounding the parking huge lot. I don’t remember if that was intended or if people just made their own picnic area. I always love the roadways in that area of Orchard Beach and City Island connecting New Rochelle. Robert Moses’ projects are part of the ART DECO movement in architecture and design. I didnt look at Jones Beach and Orchard Beach through that lens, really as a teen or even as an adult, but after listening to this podcast and hearing the dates of these projects am Happily reawakened to this, because I love Art Deco. Of course, the sheer quantity of projects Moses and his “army” made happen year after year are from the Art Deco era. I think a few are after that, too.
I cant wait to visit the Astoria Pool now!!! I have seen a documentary on Robert Moses on TV. Cant wait for Part 2 and “the arts”. Terrific podcast!

I’m a native New Yorker who moved to the West coast. I started listening to your podcast a few years ago. Your broad knowledge base, creative and most enthusiastic delivery were just the final incentive I needed to finally return to my beloved NYC – and this after 30 years in California! Thank you for all you do, just top notch. I am also now a Patreon supporter. 😊👍

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