Karrie Jacobs


June 2, 2010

Before There Was Bloomberg, There Was Lindsay

John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller in 1966, rethinking lower Manhattan,  in a Daily News photo, from the Museum of the City of New York’s online Lindsay exhibition.

I got so distracted by the Cooper Hewitt Triennial, that I forgot all about the Lindsay show uptown at the Museum of the City of New York. It’s one of those exhibitions about New York City’s history, rich with archival material, that  the MCNY does so well.  Mayor John Lindsay, elected in 1965, served two terms as mayor during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s.  What I remembered about him before going to see this show is that he walked.  To commiserate with commuters stranded by the transit strike of 1966, he walked to work.  To calm the rage following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he walked through Harlem.  What I didn’t remember — or never quite realized — is that Lindsay laid the groundwork for an approach to urbanism that seems, in some ways, very contemporary and familiar.

Lindsay was the one who closed the road through Central Park to traffic on the weekends and promoted bicycling in the park.  The original TKTS booth in Times Square was his administration’s baby.  And he had a number of schemes for pedestrianizing various Manhattan avenues and streets.

Of course, the pedestrian malls he supported for Madison Avenue and (I think) 48th St. were the now-discredited 1970s variety: no cars, festive street furniture.  But Lindsay’s interests in creating a more pleasurable urban experience (Fun City!) foreshadow much of what’s happened under Bloomberg.  Yes, his spending was blamed for New York going broke shortly after he left office (Ford to City: Drop Dead).  But, arguably,  his passion for the urban experience sustained New York through a period in which America was abandoning its cities.

Go see the show if you can.  If you can’t,  check out the online version.

(Also, worth the trip: Cars, Culture and the City.)

Further reading:  James Sanders’ essay about Lindsay on Design Observer.