Westway, New York’s Great Highway That Never Was

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Gil Troy, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at McGill University. His tenth book on American history, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, was just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @GilTroy. Thumbnail Image -  By Roger Rowlett - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Traipsing along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side today, enjoying green spaces, stunning vistas, and happy people, it’s easy to forget that this area recently was a dump-- symbolizing urban decay and governmental dysfunction.

After ships became too big to dock there, the rotting piers became wild urban hubs in the 1970s. A city of grime and crime supplanted the thrifty, hardworking, earnest metropolis of the 1940s and 1950s. 

Today, as children laugh, birds tweet, waves lap amid cars whizzing by, belching exhaust, hear the ghost of the great Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan whisper: “This is grand, but had you listened to me and built Westway, it would be heavenly!”

Westway! Neither violent video game nor cutesy startup, from 1974 to 1985 this multi-billion-dollar parkway project pitted 1930s Franklin-Roosevelt-the-bigger-the-better, red, white, and blue Public Works liberals against 1960s Jane Jacobs small-is-beautiful, Hippie-dippie green environmentalists.

America’s traditional republic run by elected officials representing the people clashed with a modern weathervane democracy sensitive to grassroots voices empowered by the media, regulations, and courts. ...




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