The Jane Jacobs of the South Bronx

Photo: Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Three separate exhibitions in the city are attempting to rehabilitate the legacy of the city’s erstwhile master builder, Robert Moses, but Majora Carter isn’t onboard. The MacArthur “genius” fellow and founder of the community group Sustainable South Bronx got the crowd on her side at a recent Moses discussion at the Museum of the City of New York, when Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff responded to her complaint about the proposed building of a new jail in the South Bronx by saying that “there are things in this city that nobody wants, and we have to find places to put them.” She so impressed the museum staff that she’s been invited back for an event of her own on March 15. She spoke to Janelle Nanos.

People are comparing you with Moses’s nemesis, Jane Jacobs.
Those are awfully big shoes to fill. Definitely, her approach is one that we use: where communities are considered assets and not obstacles. When I look at the kind of work Moses did, it makes me able to point to an era, a person, and an administration that basically helped create everything that I’m fighting against right now.

You’re actually working to try to undo one of Moses’s final projects—the stunted, one-mile Sheridan Expressway that runs through the South Bronx—by turning it into a greenway.
It was supposed to go through the New York Botanical Garden, but now it literally goes nowhere. Over the past several years, we’ve been pushing to have it be studied. Right now, the state is trying really hard not to study our option.

Part of Moses’s legacy is the idea that to get anything done in the city, it needs to be done by fiat. Do you see that happening again now?
Absolutely. Partially, it’s a coliseum mentality, that it has to be big or it doesn’t matter. The problem with the big projects of Moses and now Doctoroff is that they don’t think about what the long-term impacts are of exercising that much power on people who have none. It’s the idea that people are in the way.

It’s interesting that you group Doctoroff and Moses together. Do you think the deputy mayor sees himself as the new Moses?
Oh, God, yeah. Completely. He thinks he’s the man.

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The Jane Jacobs of the South Bronx