A question that may have crossed your mind as Sandy hammered the East Coast in October: How exactly did so many low-income New Yorkers come to live on the water? Jonathan Mahler explains the history in The New York Times:
Projects first started to rise in the Rockaways in 1950. At the time, there was an unprecedented demand for housing, from returning veterans and blacks migrating from the South, as well as plenty of federal financing as a result of the Housing Act of 1949.
Above all, there was Robert Moses.
"Why did the Rockaways end up with so much government-financed housing? Largely because Robert Moses wanted it there," says Robert Caro, author of "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York."…Never one for nostalgia, Moses saw the Rockaways as both a symbol of the past and a justification for his own aggressive approach to urban renewal, to building what he envisioned as the city of the future. "Such beaches as the Rockaways and those on Long Island and Coney Island lend themselves to summer exploitation, to honky-tonk catchpenny amusement resorts, shacks built without reference to health, sanitation, safety and decent living," he said, making his case for refashioning the old summer resorts into year-round residential communities.
What is more, the Rockaways had plenty of land that the city could buy cheaply, or simply seize under its newly increased powers of eminent domain, swaths big enough to accommodate the enormous public-housing towers Moses intended to build as part of his "Rockaway Improvement Plan." Though only a tiny fraction of the population of Queens lived in the Rockaways, it would soon contain more than half of its public housing.
"Moses may have thought he was breaking up the city's ghettos," Mahler writes; "in fact, he was relocating them and setting them in concrete."
Play us out, boys: