A MARVELOUS ORDER: an opera about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs
A MARVELOUS ORDER:
an opera about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs
This is a story about New York City, and about cities, in general. It's a story about the people who live in those cities and how the decisions made on their behalf, by those with authority and those who resist that authority, tangibly impact their lives. It's a story about two brilliant, visionary urban theorists, each of whom turned their theory into practice, and in so doing changed the landscape of New York and the field of urbanism forever. And it's a story that continues to this day, in New York City and beyond.
This multi-media and multi-disciplinary opera, co-produced with 3-Legged Dog Media and Theater Group, is by New Amsterdam co-founder and composer Judd Greenstein, director Joshua Frankel, choreographer Will Rawls and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. Our version of this story is told through the lens of the struggle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses over the fate of Washington Square Park and lower Manhattan in the 1960s. When Jacobs's neighborhood was threatened by Moses's highway development plans, she mounted community opposition that successfully halted Moses's actions and weakened his hold on urban policy. That moment of conflict represents the juncture between two approaches to urban planning, personified by the two antagonists, that continue to frame the contemporary development of cities around the world.
Robert Moses was the most powerful urban planner of the modern era, an unelected official who carved out an untouchable, autocratic fiefdom that he maintained for four decades, financed through tolls collected on roads and bridges he constructed and ruled from an island fortress in the heart of New York. In the interest of creating his vision of utopia, and with the rare means to carry out such a vision, Moses thoroughly transformed the landscape of New York, dismissing local opposition and destroying neighborhoods in order to build the highways, bridges, and tunnels that opened New York to the automobile age, as well as a vast system of parks, beaches, pools and public housing on a scale unprecedented in modern history.
Jane Jacobs was a journalist and one of history's great autodidacts, upending the field of urban planning and the sociology of cities through writings that were wholly the product of her own studies and experience. From her keen observations of the city she inhabited, she formed a revolutionary understanding of how cities function, and proposed a new approach to urban planning that used this understanding to promote the kinds of behaviors that make cities prosper and thrive. She was dismissive of paternalistic approaches to planning, based on faulty, fanciful assumptions about the needs of urban populations, which she identified as doing more harm than good.