Who is Robert Moses?

As a skateboarder, you’re constantly on the hunt for architectural anomalies, and, as such, you’re constantly questioning the urban environment surrounding you. How tall is the ledge? What’s the ground like? Do you get kicked out? Heavy foot traffic? Is what I’m trying an ABD? Does Bobby Puleo have a claim to this? Rarely, however, do you think beyond the physical attributes of the spot, and question the origin of the spot. Do you know who designs and creates any of the spots you skate?

Enter Robert Moses.

One of the more divisive figures in modern urban development, Robert Moses is responsible for much of the growth New York City underwent in the post-Depression era. Known as “The Power Broker” in certain circles, Moses had little to no formal architecture or city planning training, yet held twelve offices at once without ever being elected and influenced urban planning the world over. His policies, often rooted in racism and prejudice, resulted in today’s urban sprawl, and his preclusion of highways over public transportation is responsible for the decline and destruction of numerous low-income neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the man left an indelible impression on the New York City landscape, and, as a result, the corresponding skate scene. Here are a few spots you can thank Robert Moses for next time you’re cruising the city.

Stuytown

Antonio Durao, ollie over the rail. Photo: Mike Heikkila

Lower Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village is the huge, private development of brick buildings spanning 1st Avenue to Avenue C, between 14th and 23rd Streets. Originally intended to provide priority housing to World War II veterans, Moses pushed for this teeming community as a type of slum clearance, and actually rejected a provision in the Stuyvesant Town Plan contract in 1943, preventing racial or religious discrimination when selecting tenants. The development’s courtyard is big enough to get lost in, and with tall, black rails of every length and combination imaginable on seemingly every slope, Stuytown is a destination for both high-ollie types to go over the rail into the bank, or thrill-seekers looking to go the distance on the rail. Though only two people have skated the entire rail — Kevin Tierney with a boardslide and Jonathan Ettman with a 50-50 — we have to give kudos to Jordan Trahan for ollieing over the stairs, crossing the street, and back tailing the base of the flagpole, at a spot that’s generally an instant bust.

Fort Greene Park

Dustin Eggeling, b/s 180 nosegrind to switch manual

Fort Greene was originally used as a military base in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, before being named Washington Park in 1847, and finally, Fort Greene Park in 1896. The space took on the form most are familiar with today after Moses was appointed parks commissioner in 1934. His first project was to upgrade Fort Greene Park’s forestry and infrastructure, including enlarging the base of the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument, a remnant of the Revolutionary War and the highest point of the park. Construction led to two levels of granite ledges, both intersected by flat gaps, with brick ground. Skateboarders eventually recognized the potential the spot held, and the statue can be skated as a ledge, a drop-down manual pad, or even a gap, to those willing to risk a summons from the Parks Department. Almost as popular as the statue base are the long, knobbed banks bordering the stairs, used as a-step up, step-down obstacle for the quick-footed (think Daniel Kim’s front shove up, switch ollie down in Spirit Quest).

Flushing Meadows - Corona Park

Bobby Puleo, b/s 180 switch crooks, f/s half cab out. Lifted from the Chrome Ball Incident.

Envisioned in the 1920s and brought to completion by 1939, Flushing-Meadows Corona Park was supposed to be a jewel in Moses’ crown. The park was originally intended to host the World’s Fair in 1939, though the space was dismantled afterwards for World War II efforts. The iconic Unisphere statue didn’t come around until 1959, when preparations for the 1964 World Fair were fully underway. Unfortunately, due to Moses’ fiscal sidestepping, the event was considered a flop, though the park renovations remain largely successful to this day. The spot only became a staple in the early-to-mid 1990’s, when the interior of the fountain was paved and painted the blinding bright blue, and the ledges were discovered to be of perfect height and consistency to go the distance over the grate, a perfect flat gap in and of itself. Though plenty have utilized the spot in their own way —Anthony Pappalardo filmed a line manualing into and out of the fountain, Vinny Ponte was the first to jump down the big six leading up to the Unisphere, the square fountain at the foot of the stairs gets plenty of action as both a gap and a ledge, and we all have a favorite trick to go down on the ledge over the grate — we have to give credit to Rodney Torres, for seemingly filming more of our favorite clips at more parts of the spot than anyone else.

Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

Moses’s distaste of public transportation led to widespread highway construction, destroying housing and neighborhoods in lieu of affordable transit while inadvertently creating perfect environments for skateboarders to build in relative peace. Case in point, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, finished in 1961 but seemingly under constant construction, was a perfect breeding ground for the now-defunct BQE spot. Like so many other New York spots, the BQE was originally brought to fruition by Jerry Mraz, who outfitted a small section under the bridge with renegade quarterpipes, slappy ledges, bank-to-walls, and the occasional box, oftentimes using the bridge itself as a vital component of the spot. Though low impact in nature and seemingly always in danger of destruction, the spot was mostly hassle-free and prevailed for years, making appearances in both eons of local videos and releases as high budget as Nike’s Chronicles 3 or Adidas’ 2012 NYC edit.

McCarren Park

Brendan Carroll, switch ollie. Photo: Graham Tait

Moses’ legacy includes building 658 playgrounds over his thirty-one years as chief of the New York State Park System. Chances are there are quite a few skate spots floating around the metropolitan area that you can chalk up to his work; however, the most notable one we could definitively find on record is Brooklyn’s McCarren Park. Built in 1906, Moses opened a swimming complex on the grounds in 1936. In a confirmation of his critics’ claims of racism in Moses' policies and practices, Robert Caro reports in The Power Broker the waters of the pools Moses designed were kept deliberately icy to discourage certain races from swimming there. Today, in addition to a pool with a well-regulated temperature, the complex boasts a newly-renovated skatepark, a dingy, flat ledge coined “The Couch” and localized predominantly by older Brooklynites unwilling to stray too far from home, a bump-to-bar, and a few kinked rails leading up to the pool for anyone willing to do some jumping.

Now, imagine a New York City skate scene without these five spots...

For more on Robert Moses' career, check out Robert Caro's excellent book, The Power Broker.

-Andrew Murrell