Urban Renewal and the Arts

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Nils Olander

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Nils Olander

Someone posted a comment on Facebook last week pointing out that Tuesday, May 14, marked the 54th anniversary of the ground-breaking ceremony for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in New York City. And while 54th anniversary years aren’t typically recognized as particularly significant, the occasion got me thinking about New Haven native and Yale University graduate Robert Moses, the wildly influential New York City official who gave Manhattan much of its infrastructure.

Along with a musical program led by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, several notable dignitaries attended and spoke at the 1959 ground-breaking ceremony at Columbus Avenue and 64th Street.

In his remarks, President Eisenhower said, “Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts symbolizes an increasing interest in America in cultural matters, as well as a stimulating approach to one of the Nation’s pressing problems: urban blight.”

By “urban blight,” President Eisenhower was referring to the tenements that were torn down so that one of the world’s most renowned performing arts complexes could be built.

While Lincoln Center is a nourishing place for artists and audiences alike, it’s instructive to acknowledge all the costs of such “urban renewal” projects, even if the benefits are many.

— David Brensilver

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