Public administrator, born in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Independently wealthy (he seldom accepted any salary), he was educated at Yale, Oxford, and Columbia universities as a political scientist. He began his government career in New York City’s Bureau of Municipal Research (1913) with an attempt to reform the civil service along the lines of his graduate thesis. In 1919 he became chief-of-staff of New York State’s reconstruction commission under Governor Al Smith, who would long be his chief sponsor. In 1924 he was appointed head of both the New York State Council of Parks and the Long Island State Park Commission. Using these and many other positions, notably New York City Parks commissioner (1934–60) and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel authorities (1934–68), he radically changed the city and its environs, creating a system of parkways to get New Yorkers to the outskirts, to Jones Beach (his pet project), and to the many state parks which he also set up. By the end of his career he was credited with building 416 miles of parkway, 13 major bridges, and 658 playgrounds, as well as setting aside over 2 000 000 acres of parkland.
He did not succeed at everything, however, and was soundly defeated in his one bid for public office when he ran as the Republican candidate for governor (1934), and he also lost out in his efforts to stop Joseph Papp from performing Shakespeare in Central Park (1959). By the time of his last major project, the New York World’s Fair (1964–8), he had fallen into disfavour with many other social thinkers and urban planners because his approach had so often involved razing entire neighbourhoods and laying down tons of concrete. Autocratic by temperament and in his operations, he spent his last years defending his achievements, but even his critics agreed that his impact had been irreversible and unique.
See also New Haven.
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