August 11th, 2011 -
In his quest to radically transform New York City's built environment, Robert Moses left behind many scars on the land, blighting communities with wastelands and ruins. One reminder of the Master Builder's incomplete mission to redesign the city's infrastructure still hovers above Staten Island. Moses built more than 400 miles of parkways during his long reign, but the Richmond Parkway Interchange - one mile of twisting concrete paths - is a symbol of his final days in power. It has been abandoned for 45 years.
The Richmond Parkway "was originally intended to be 9.5 miles long" according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, and would have connected southern Staten Island to the Staten Island Expressway via the Richmond Parkway Interchange, providing quick access to the nearby Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was completed in 1964 as "the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses," according to Wikipedia. The plan for the parkway was to cut through what is now the Staten Island Greenbelt, tearing down pristine forests, threatening Pouch Camp and devastating the Blood Root Valley. The southern section of the parkway - known today as the Korean War Veterans Parkway - had already been completed and construction of the interchange was well underway: "Earth and rock blasted away for the highway was hauled to a remote area eventually forming a 260-foot-high mound ironically nicknamed 'Moses Mountain',” according to the Greenbelt Conservancy.
The Richmond Parkway Interchange was nearly complete before members of the community were able to stop the planned destruction of the Greenbelt. "Intrepid citizen-activists vigorously protested the highway and won their battle," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy, and "in 1966 Mayor John Lindsay ordered a halt" to construction on the northern section of the Richmond Parkway, according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. The victory helped galvanize the creation of the Greenbelt, "the largest of New York City’s five flagship parks," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy, with "more than 2,800 acres of public and private land." For Robert Moses, who had "thrust many of New York's great ribbons of concrete across an older and largely settled urban landscape," according to the NY Times, it was a rare defeat at the end of a long career, and "his last significant hold on power was lost in 1968."
The Richmond Parkway Interchange remains abandoned today, covered in juvenile graffiti from a nearby high school and littered with empty liquor bottles. The curving roads above the Staten Island Expressway are spotted with weeds, while trees and shrubs have reclaimed the inland ramps. On the side of the road, cars rust in the woods, tree trunks in their engine blocks, like some post-apocalyptic version of a city once ruled by automobiles.