In many cities, waterfront real estate is hotly coveted, and to a degree, that’s true in New York as well–witness the propagation of luxury condos in the Rockaways before Hurricane Sandy–but much of the city’s waterfront has historically been dotted with housing projects. In the wake of the storm’s devastation along the coastline a month ago, the New York Times looked into how this unique housing situation came to be, and according to their report, it was through a combination of circumstance and inertia.
“New York started building housing projects on the waterfront because that’s where its poorest citizens happened to live,” writes essayist Jonathan Mahler. “It continued because that’s where space was most readily available. Finally, it built them there because that’s where its projects already were.”
And predictably, much of the situation is owed to Robert Moses, who oversaw a large expansion of public housing during is time as head of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearence, particularly in the Rockaways–taking advantage of cheap land and eminent domain powers. To Moses, the Rockaways were an opportunity to turn a dilapidated resort town into a center of public housing. “Such beaches as the Rockaways and those on Long Island and Coney Island lend themselves to summer exploitation,” he said at the time, “to honky-tonk catchpenny amusement resorts, shacks built without reference to health, sanitation, safety and decent living.”
According to writer Lawrence Kaplan, “after World War II, Rockaway was essentially treated as a dumping ground.”
(Photo: Melissa Segal/Flickr)