Goodbye Baxter Terrace

Written by my father Zemin Zhang on December 2, 2007


“I love you darling’
“Baby, you know I do
“But I’ve got to see this Book of Love
“Find out why it’s true”
Every day in 1955, Charles Patrick, 17, and a group of teenagers came together to sing in the Baxter Terrace’s recreation hall.  By 1958, they had sung their heart out and their song, “Who Wrote the Book of Love?” hit the country and even spread as far as Europe and Australia.  “Oh, I wonder, wonder ohm ba doo who….. who wrote the book of love?”  Charles never found the answer and two members of the Monotones, the Ryanes Brothers, died in their 30’s.  Now that Baxter Terrance has been scheduled for demolition, I wonder if people could find some old and broken pages of the Book of Love from the rubble of this 66 year-old project.


Immediately after the establishment of the Newark Housing Authority (NHA) in 1938, word spread out that one of  four “low-cost “ projects, a complex of 21 apartment buildings, would be in an area surrounded by Orange, Nesbitt, James, and Boyden Streets.  Among 1,363 buildings in the vicinity, 45 percent residents were black, living in substandard condition, many even without bath tubs and toilets.  (Only 10 percent of the city population was black.)  To construct the largest public housing in the state, the Orange-Nesbitt project needed to clear a few hundred buildings, while the other three (Pennington Court, Seth Boyden Court, and Stephen Crane Village)  would be built on mostly vacant land.  All land negotiations with lucrative commissions were assigned to three white agents, despite of the protest of Harold Lett, the only black NHA member.
By June 1939, 21 white land owners still held out their properties.  After condemnation procedures, a lone grocer-butcher Mr. Romano took the case of his four properties to the state court.  He put up placards against the NHA, “This Is a Free Country….”  One afternoon, his plump wife, in a gingham dress, apron and cap, waved her meat clever to chase out the government agent who had come to serve the condemnation notice.  “This is no dictatorship, Hitlerism or Soviet government where they chain you and send you to Siberia,” cried Mrs. Romano.  However, the couple were subsequently sent to jail and fined.  Next March, the court rejected the couple’s constitutionality challenge and settled the case with an offer of $25,000, far from the $75,000 they asked for.  Meanwhile, all surrounding streets were widened, in consideration of the traffic during the project’s estimated life of 60 years.  After $2,269,088 were awarded to contractors, the construction moved quickly towards completion in 18 months.
On June 7, 1941, the project was officially opened, named after James Baxter, who died in 1909 after serving 45 years in the city’s school.  Ironically, although the old Baxter fought all his life for a desegregated school system, his name was chosen only to settle the housing dispute to make the project for black residents only.  At the time, among 44,000 black residents, 18,900 were on “relief load,” 41 percent of the total poor in the city.  Those blacks, who were removed from the area but failed to get back in, had to settle in far worse housing because of the limited rental availability for blacks.  Among the 621 lucky black families, the income limit (i.e., $17 weekly for two and $22 for six) was intentionally set very low with constant strong pressure from the Newark Real Estate Board, among other “real estate lobbies.”  The nationwide racial as well as the economic segregation were designed to doom the future of public housing from its very beginning.  By 1951 when Louis Danzig, the talented and dedicated NHA director for 21 years, pushed for housing desegregation, the city’s white population had been in its rapid decline.  As a result, political support for public housing further eroded.
The Baxter Terrace area was always in one of the most notorious locations.  In September 1939 before the project’s construction, the city had to pump 30,000,000 cubic feet of odorless and colorless cyanide gas into the whole block, leading to 500,000 rodent casualties.  The problem, however, never ended.  For instance, in a February 1970 Newark Evening News report, residents complained that rats were running wildly.  “They are so big that kids are not aware of what they are, but play with them in the court yard,” observed one resident.   The hallways of the buildings were filled with “foul” odors because of dead rats.
From the beginning, various crimes were reported.  For instance, in July 1945, Rochai Sanders, a girl of five and half who had just enrolled in the Burnet Street School, was raped and killed.  Her charred body was found in a waste paper incinerator in the basement.  The case was never solved.  Two years later, the battered body of Mrs. Evelyn Eltoohey (24) was found under walls splattered with blood, while her two year old daughter was sleeping in the room during the day.  In February 1954, four armed bandits locked three housing employees in a closet and ran away with $1,500 rent money.  In April 1957, a 13-year-old girl was raped by six boys from ages 14 to 16 in the basement.  In the 1960’s, robberies became more often and purse snatchings happened repeatedly near Summit Street.  By the 1990’s, after the Federal government declared its “War against Drugs,” the area along Orange Street and Interstate 280 became one of the nation’s busiest drug traffic centers.  The 1940’s and 1950’s were by then the “good old days.”  The police helicopter’s search light and gun shots disturbing the quiet night were a regular feature for Baxter Terrace residents.  Even the news media lost interest in the daily violence.  During the last a few years under Sharpe James, the area was constantly sealed by police cars and mobile stations to create a concentration camp for those whose only crime was to be born poor.
The innocent residents of generations were hostages to the moralist drug “war” and casualties of various policy failures.  While millions of African-American men were pushed in and out of jails, women and children often suffered as well.  Two years ago, Cynthia McFadden of ABC News reported a case of 8-year-old Armani Stevenson.  When she was only 10 months old, Armani was left on the doorstep of her 85-year-old great-great-grandmother’s home at the Baxter Terrace.  The old lady, Okella Foster, was raising five boys and girls at the time.  Over the past five decades, she raised a dozen of her family’s abandoned children.  When Armani first arrived, raw and open sores were all over her lower body.  By eight, she had willed herself to silence, hardly speaking a word outside her home.  Psychologists name the condition selective mutism, as an extreme form of control for a traumatized child who cannot control any other things in her life.
My first encounter with the project was in the early 1990’s after finding my home on James Street.  Together with some neighbors, I attended a City Council meeting to protest a plan to open an auto junk yard on Orange Street within the James Street Historic District.  Happily, I found a large group of mostly women, three times more than my “progressive” neighbors, had already been in the room to protest the same ill-planned business.  Some more experienced neighbors, however, were disturbed, “Don’t approach them,” they told me.  “Why?” I was puzzled.  “They are from the Baxter Terrace.”  “What is the Baxter Terrace? Don’t we share the same goal of defeating the junkyard?” I asked.  For years, I hardly stepped foot in the dangerous area while getting to know a few decent people there.
Last year, my children’s two bicycles were stolen in front of Intrinsic Café on Sussex Street.  My homeless friend Joe volunteered to take me to the Baxter Terrace to look for the loss.  In the middle of the courtyard, a child was happily riding my daughter’s bike while a group of men were watching from the doorsteps.  “Hey, Joe, f**k you.  What are you up to, with that man?”  “Hey, f**k YOU,” Joe replied.  I left without my bicycles, but with a burdened conscience for my arrogance and indifference.  However, my “recklessness” of breaking the taboo for entering the war zone had deeply bothered some neighbors on my own street.  Even in this largest city of the most segregated state in the nation, life has been further segregated, creating visible and invisible prisons for everybody.
In my 17 years in the city, I have witnessed a number of ”triumphant” implosions of public housing buildings, including Columbus Homes,  Scudder Homes, and Hayes Homes.  After next summer, the city will again schedule another demolition, this time for the Baxter Terrace.  Kaderia Boykin, a 26-year-old Baxter Terrace mother reportedly said, “Tear it down today.  Move me now.”  This time, the enduring people of Newark have to go through the experience very differently and mindfully.  This is our city, our city planning, our lives, and our souls.  Flying all flags at half-mast, ringing the bells of Saint Patrick and Sacred Heart Cathedrals, and playing taps along Orange Street, we will mourn the loss of 67years and generations of lives.  Good-bye, Baxter Terrace, birthplace of the Book of Love, but having seen little of it itself.

The Paterson Silk Strike in Historical Perspective

1913 to 2023


A century later, the mills of Paterson sitting abandoned, their machines silent

Exactly 110 years ago today – on July 28, 1913 – Paterson silk mill workers voted to end their strike. Their strike had failed. But what has changed (or not) since then frames their historical struggle in the context of ongoing labor battles. The motivations of the strikers are as relevant in 2023 as they were in 1913: the fight for a living wage, for an eight-hour day, and – ultimately – for the right to work that feels meaningful.
The silk looms of Paterson required a high level of skill to operate: to draw the thin threads into delicate patterns, to weave the silk without breaking it, to never pull the threads too tightly that embroidered patterns curled up into themselves. Machines kept the rooms humid all year round – hot in summer, cold in winter – so that the silk threads remained damp, malleable, and less likely to tear from dryness. Workers suffered in the moisture; cases of asthma and lung diseases were common. Management was threatening to replace their skilled labor with machines. Whatever creativity and skill was still required to operate the looms was gradually being lost. Thousands in Paterson went on strike for five months from February to July 1913. They ultimately failed when management refused to concede to their demands and when workers in other mills refused to join in solidarity.
The machines in Paterson were powered first by water and wood, then coal, and finally electricity. The inventors of mill machines were scattered across the New York region. Factory machines needed to be close to the men who invented them and repaired them when, inevitably, these new inventions broke down. The investors in silk were on Wall Street and Lower Manhattan. The markets selling silk were department stores on Manhattan’s Ladies Mile, better known as Sixth Avenue. (Sixth Avenue was still largely residential.) A popular saying ran: 8th Street down the men are making it; 8th Street up the women are spending it.
The distance between markets and manufacturers was once measured in miles, the distance by train from Paterson to New York City or the distance by foot from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to Ladies Mile. This distance is now measured in thousands of miles. In the 19th century, Jacob Riis shocked the city’s elite with photos of Lower East Side tenements and factories located less than a mile from their Fifth Avenue homes. On June 7, 1913, the Paterson strikers brought the strike to the city. They boarded trains to Madison Square Garden and re-enacted their strike on stage for an audience in the thousands. Some strikers played on stage as police, others as management, and others as themselves. It was one of the the first times in American history that labor was transformed into a public pageant, into a public spectacle that hoped to make visible their struggle to New York City consumers. Pageants were traditionally military and state affairs that celebrated events like battle victories, elections, and fancy dress balls in theaters. To put on as large a public spectacle to celebrate striking and strikers was something new.
Fearful for their property and of socialists on their doorstep, Upper East Side residents organized their own unit of the National Guard based in a custom-built Park Avenue Avenue castle. Nicknamed the Silk Stocking Regiment for the wealth of its members, they paraded annually down Fifth Avenue in a display of wealth and force.
Over the 20th century, mill workers in Paterson, Lowell, and across New England fought and won union rights. In each instance, within years of their victories, the factories picked up shop and moved elsewhere. First to the American South in states with labor laws that favored the mill owners. Then to China and finally to India. In the 21st century, manufacturers move machines to wherever labor is cheapest. Transport by container ship is now cheaper, labor laws in America are now stronger than they were in the 1900s (but weaker than they were in the 1950s), and borders are no longer a problem for owners in a world woven together on strings of ocean-spanning fiber optic cables.
Today, that distance between sites of exploitation and places of profit is greater. The factories of management and the homes of laborers are no longer in walking distance of each other. On April 24, 2013 – on the centennial of the Paterson silk strike – the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh. The mill was making fast fashion for Primark, Walmart, and other western brands, paying its workers cents on the hour for 10-hour days. Vibrations from the machinery caused the poorly built factory to collapse and kill 1,134 workers. Most victims were women and mothers. One hundred years earlier in 1913, most New Yorkers could have seen firsthand the strike, the violent response of factory owners to suppress it, and the damages of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. But in 2013, the violence of Rana Plaza was half a world away. After the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 killed 146 mostly women and children, management paid the family of each victim $75. After the Rana factory collapse, Primark paid each victim’s family $200. In neither disaster was any corporation punished. But while the Triangle fire was a key moment in labor history that galvanized public support for unions, the Rana factory collapse is a footnote.
Historians describe the Vietnam War as America’s first “television war,” images flashed across the screen of napalm attacks, carpet bombings, and the nine-year-old girl running toward the film cameras from her burning village. The violence feels distant: workers thousands of miles away, a separate lived reality, violence transformed into a product as passive to consume as the evening news. The violence of textile production also feels intimate: as intimate as the clothes we wear and as intimate as seeing violence from the intimacy of the bedroom television. But, intimate or distant, labor struggle is a reality millions of middle class Americans can now choose to see or ignore.
The technologies of surveillance have changed the face of labor. Laborers are now not only more physically distant from the markets their products are sold. They are also distant from the homes of their corporate bosses. They are more physically distant from each other. Algorithms guide Amazon workers on the paths they must navigate through the fulfillment center to retrieve items. The software allegedly guides them on paths that limit face-to-face contact and thus reduces the chances to socialize and organize themselves at the workplace.
The geography of the American city has also changed. In the early 20th century, most mill workers walked to work, travelled by trolley, or assembled in the public street. Main streets and public parks were open spaces for labor to assemble, protest, and make their voices heard. Immigrant laborers clustered in tight-knit and physically dense communities united along lines of race, religion, and language. The geography of the city invited social interaction and the human relations essential to any organized movement.
Today, more New Jersey residents live in suburbs than in cities, and more travel to work on private cars than on public transit. Highways isolate each commuter in their own car; a public good is privatized. The fabric of daily life has turned inward. What was once a culture of public spectacles and public entertainment – in theaters, in city streets, at church, and on public transportation – has been replaced with the television, internet streaming, and each person’s private communion with the phone screen. If the falling number of Americans who attend church, go to live performances, and participate in local elections is any indication, human needs that once required social interaction in public are now met through communion with technology in private. The ease of driving in a privatized suburban environment isolates us from each other and from the kind of urban environments conducive to organized protest.
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, philosopher Michel Foucault described in 1971 earlier society as the “culture of spectacle” and modern society as a “carceral culture.” Public space has become privatized: from shopping malls on private property patrolled by mall cops, to Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse as a virtual town square, to Amazon as a virtual marketplace that replaces the activities of a physical Main Street America. In each private space, the user is tracked, monitored, and marketed. Revolution is averted.
The nature of labor also is different. The image of a 19th century factory is the assembly line, industrial labor in physically demanding jobs. Today, those jobs have either been automated or largely exiled beyond American borders. The trend since mid-century has moved the sites of work – factories, offices, and logistics centers – from cities to suburban areas, to office parks and industrial parks where the employer has more control. The gig economy of delivery drivers, truckers, restaurants, and service workers has largely replaced an urban industrial economy of blue-collar laborers. Labor is not less demanding or demeaning, but it is different – more atomized, more isolated, more suburban, and more closely monitored.
For all the ways the suburban built environment makes labor organizing more difficult, one thing has improved in the past century: the access of laborers to consumer goods. Paterson strikers largely lived in tenements, in boarding houses, and homes usually without hot running water and electricity. Most could afford only a few pairs of clothes. Bread riots were frequent in 19th-century cities, for the simple fact that most workers lived paycheck to paycheck; bread was a staple food and a large percentage of a family’s weekly budget. Today, the American working class is not usually lacking for material goods: fast fashion, fast food, cell phones, and low-cost products made by laborers in foreign lands paid even less than them. Even the homeless, thanks to government programs, have access to the internet on their low-cost smart phones. Henry Ford advocated for the cheap mass-produced car as tool of social stability. The moment the laborer becomes car owner and later homeowner, Ford claimed in newsletters to employees, he would no longer advocate for revolution. Consumerism will pacify revolution. Revolution is averted.
In the 1910s, economists and socialists predicted that American society would be so wealthy, so thoroughly mechanized, and so rich in affordable consumer products that most people would no longer have to work. Laborers would be free to live a meaningful life surrounded by high quality machine-made goods. However rich modern western society is in consumer products, it is still lacking in the cultural fabric of families and the social fabric of anti-poverty institutions. The cruel irony is that the average American worker can afford a six-foot wide flat screen TV but not the home to put it in or health insurance. That century-old dream of industrial utopia now feels more attainable than anytime in human history, and yet somehow more distant. Perhaps, if the Paterson silk mills were still in operation and their workers again on strike, management could offer to buy them televisions and a subscription to Amazon Prime.


Related: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire virtual reality reconstruction of a crime scene


Suzhou No.1 Silk Mill in Suzhou (Jiangsu), China on November 4, 2007

Images at top of page are from the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey
Link to image left and image right

“Where Evil Dwells” at Newark’s Old Essex County Jail

As originally published in The Newarker, December 2020


Photo by Madeline Berry

“The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850
When citizens convened in 1836 to incorporate Newark as a city, one of their first orders of business was to discuss the construction of a new jail. Four years earlier, they had set aside land for the new cemetery. The previous year, the old county courthouse and jail had burned down in one of the fires that periodically swept through early American towns of wood-frame homes. All traces of this old courthouse are now gone, except for the building’s basement dungeon where convicts were kept awaiting trial. Remnants of this dungeon are still visible in the dark crawlspace beneath the sanctuary of Grace Church on Broad Street.
This quiet village was already approaching 170 years old. Newark’s population numbered only 10,542 free white Americans, 6,000 Irish, 1,000 English and Scotch, 300 Germans and 358 free colored people in 1835. Within the span of a few months, in 1836, the town’s first two railroads linked Newark to points west and south; oil streetlights illuminated the town center; the first school system for poor children opened; and another fire swept through downtown. In the next few decades, the population would grow almost ten percent every year. Newark was fast becoming a city.
However, Newark remained in many ways a farming hamlet with Puritan roots. Since 1666, the annual town meetings had been held in the courthouse, the “Court Room at Moses Roff’s Taven,” or inside one of the lecture rooms of Old First Presbyterian Church near the corner of Broad and Market Streets. The sexton of Old First was, in fact, paid three dollars per year by the Town Committee “for cleaning the Lecture room of said Church.” The names of attending officials read like a list of street names from a modern Newark address book: Treat, Baldwin, Bruen, Pennington, Doremus, Halsey, Harrison, Frelinghuysen, etc. The lands they farmed and passed down through generations span much of present-day Essex County.
In the expanding town, it was no longer possible “to Farm let” the city’s debtors and poor to the lowest bidder, who in the years before the American Revolution paid £159 for the privilege. Nor was it possible to use fines as punishment for the most common public nuisances, which included escaped hogs and cattle roaming Newark’s dirt streets due to poorly maintained fences. The town records had noted few serious crimes like rape or murder in more than a century. Nonetheless, with waves of “rowdy” German and Irish immigrants soon to come, Newark needed a jail.
The city leaders looked around and settled on English-born architect John Haviland. Since immigrating to Philadelphia in 1815, Haviland designed many of the civic institutions for that city: the Franklin Institute for science, Old City Hall, churches, townhouses, and even parts of Independence Hall, where the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. His most famous building, however, was Eastern State Penitentiary completed in 1829. At a cost of about $450,000, Eastern State was the largest and more expensive public works project yet built in America. Over half of Eastern State’s budget was spent on the decorative fortress appearance and perimeter wall, even though visitor Alexis de Tocqueville noted that this frightening appearance served no other purpose than to frighten passersby. Newarkers thought that Haviland – later known as the “jailor to the world” – was best equipped for their project.
Haviland’s Newark commission consisted of two parts. At the top of Market Street, where Gutzon Borglum’s Seated Lincoln statue now stands, he built a symmetrical courthouse out of local brownstone. Heavy columns modeled after Egyptian papyrus leaves buttressed either side of the entrance. Carved on the cornices were the stylized motifs of eagles with outstretched arms, a reference to Horus, the Egyptian god of pharaohs. The walls tapered inward as they went up, a subtle reference to the architecture of Egyptian tombs and temples. The irony of using architecture associated with polytheism and monarchy for a courthouse was probably lost on Newark’s Christian elected leaders.
The second part of Haviland’s commission was for the Essex County Jail at what is now 271-85 New Street. Located at the city edge, along the path of the newly built Morris Canal, the jail was soon wedged between farmland on one side and leather tanning industries on the other. Also built of locally quarried stone, the jail was surrounded by an eight-foot perimeter wall. The main façade facing the city displayed an image of comfortable gardens and domestic life. The two-story Warden’s House with a wood cupola above offered hilltop views of Newark and the distant meadowlands. Generations of jail wardens lived here with their wives and children. Passing through the garden, one entered the front parlor of the Warden’s House. The stairs up led to the family bedrooms. The back door led via a short hallway to the rows of brick cell blocks and dungeons.

Old Essex County Jail Warden’s House 1967 and 2018. Photos by National Parks Service (left) and Myles Zhang (right)

In an agrarian republic, cities and urban life were seen as somehow dirty, alienating, and morally corrupt. Andrew Jackson, U.S. President when the Essex County Jail was being built, emphasized the frontier yeoman farmer and his family as the bedrock of American values and democracy. Newark’s older generation of Puritan founders and farmers observed the Sabbath, closed down businesses on this holy day, and chastised those found working. But in a city with immigrant groups who drank on the Sabbath and businesses that needed to remain open, Newark emphasized the need for the new civic institutions of schools, libraries, courthouses, public works projects, and jails to maintain tradition and social order. Indeed, in the Essex County Jail’s earliest decades, drunkenness and wife beating were among the two most common reasons men were held there. The State Temperance Society reported in 1836 that, of 517 people sent to jail, a little over twenty percent were charged with “beating and abusing their wives and children.” As part of their re-education, the better behaved of these inmates were invited to tend the warden’s garden and assist with food preparation in his kitchen. As the Newark Call reported as late as 1930: “The Essex County Jail reportedly has ‘one of the prettiest flower gardens in Newark,’ a hobby for Mr. and Mrs. Steadman, the warden and matron. A few ‘trusties’ among prisoners are rewarded for good behavior to work in the garden as recreation. Large flower beds and an extensive lawn form a bright spot outside the Warden’s House.” Warden Charles A. Steadman had the following to say to Essex County Jail inmates in a passage that reveals as much about him as it does about older attitudes toward crime and punishment:

My Friends: You and I are living under the same roof for a while.

You did not intend to come here. I did not invite you.

All of us make mistakes and at times do wrong. Perhaps you have. I know I have.

While we are together let us play fair with each other.

During your stay, your treatment will depend on your behavior. This must be remembered.

Let us both while together to live each other’s life. I’ll try to understand your position. You try to understand mine.

If we do this, we won’t have any misunderstanding.

My hope is that I will be a better man for having known you and that you will be none the worse for knowing me.

Few written records survive in the city archives or Newark Public Library from the jail’s early days. However, from what we do know, attitudes toward crime were evolving over the course of the nineteenth century. Some of America’s earliest colonial settlers were convicts deported from Britain. And in the tight-knit religious communities that dotted New England, lifetime banishment was a punishment for more severe crimes. But as America’s western frontier gradually filled out, nineteenth-century political leaders realized that if the guilty could not be banished, society would need to find means to re-educate and prepare them for eventual return to society. Prisons were built; courts were opened; inmates were set to labor in prison factories; and laws were updated to increase the number of crimes punishable with prison time. The Essex County Jail was no warehouse for the urban poor or ethnic minorities. The average length of confinement was only between 11 and 22 days during the entire 135 years the jail was in operation. This is in contrast to the backlog of cases in modern courts that can cause jail sentences to last months, even years. It was not until 1867 that troubled children were sent to the Jamesburg reformatory instead of the Essex County Jail, and it was not until 1873 that inmates with longer-term sentences were shipped to the purpose-built Essex County Penitentiary in Caldwell. Nonetheless, inmates ages eight to fifteen were locked up in the Essex County Jail until 1910 at the latest. Dozens of hangings also took place in the backyard of the Warden’s House until 1902 when executions were moved to Trenton State Prison, also built by Haviland. The practices of confinement in the Essex County Jail were changing alongside the larger city.
Two big changes came to the American prison system. The first was Prohibition. The second was the War on Drugs. The Essex County Jail’s operations responded to both. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founder of the women’s rights movement, announced at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention: “The tide of vice is swelling, and threatens the destruction of everything, and the battlements of righteousness are weak against the raging elements of sin and death.” For much of the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth, suffragists demanded the right to vote and the prohibition of alcohol. The two demands were intertwined in a perception that “demon rum” corrupted men, destabilized their families, and threatened the safety of their wives. Thus, in almost the same stroke of the legal pen in 1919, the federal government gave women the right to vote while barring men the right to drink. In the Prohibition age, the Essex County Jail’s average daily population shot up above 200 for the first time in history. The US might have ended Prohibition in 1933 with political lobbying from Newark brewers like Ballantine and Krueger. But the legal and institutional apparatuses to enforce prohibition remained in place. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Federal Bureau of Prisons were both founded in 1930, and their mission expanded in years after. At the same time, African-Americans, subject to lynching and white supremacy in the south, migrated north to cities like Newark. While the Essex County Jail detained 432 “colored” people per year in 1920, ten years later the number of “colored” people confined here annually was 3,258. In the century after Prohibition, the numbers of African-Americans confined in Newark never returned to pre-1920 levels.
Originally built for a city of less than 20,000, the Essex County Jail once employed the latest technology. The jail benefitted from radiator heating, electricity, internal plumbing, and even its own hospital and substation powered by Newark-built steam engines – all in an era before most Newark homes were equipped with these conveniences. As the growing bureaucracy of government found new and more efficient ways to keep people in cages, the jail remained a source of civic pride. Haviland’s Eastern State Penitentiary, in fact, became an attraction for thousands of annual tourists. The Essex County Jail never achieved this level of notoriety, but was part of the same era when prisons were often a source of civic pride. However, by 1926, Newark’s population and inmate numbers were beginning to outstrip what the old jail could handle. Once countryside, the site was now hemmed in on all sides by factories and tenements. From a simple plan for a Warden’s House and a single cellblock, the jail had expanded to at least fifteen buildings of various size, material, function, and design.
When Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971, the old Essex County Jail – originally designed for fewer than 100 inmates – held 432 on an average day. In a prophetic twist, as if foreshadowing future events, the jail closed the same year that the War on Drugs began. In almost every year after Nixon, the U.S. prison population has expanded. In some ways, Prohibition did not start in 1919, and nor did it end in 1933. The War on Drugs very much springs from the same place of moral righteousness that drove the War on Alcohol and before that, the various wars on vice that nineteenth-century puritanical Americans waged against socialists, anarchists, and immigrants.
Like Newark’s Puritan founding fathers, we are still a country that prefers rural and suburban living to urban life, chooses to decentralize power to the state and local level, and therefore requires a robust system of “law and order” to maintain power over increasingly diverse and immigrant urban areas. We are also a country that frames political issues like abortion and welfare with the coded language of “family values.” For conservative America and Fox News, the problem with our cities comes from a decline in Christianity, an increase in divorce, and welfare dependence that erodes work ethic. While Newark founders responded to fears of urban disorder through the old Essex County Jail, political leaders today have responded with the Essex County Correctional Facility on Doremus Avenue. This new facility’s razor wire perimeter fences and searchlight towers project an image of fear on the surrounding environment of sewer treatments plants, recycling centers, and heavy industry. It is now uncommon for prison administrators to live in the same place as their inmates.
Since 1971, the old Essex County Jail has sat abandoned and decaying. It has briefly been used as a holding facility for drug offenders, as a stage set for a film about Malcolm X, and as the occasional home for people who prefer the jail’s secluded privacy to the invasive rules of local homeless shelters. Occasional fire and structural decay threaten the buildings that remain. Old inmate records scatter the floor. The decaying architecture is not picturesque or romantic in the way that Alcatraz surveys the bay of San Francisco. And the caved-in roof of the Warden’s House today offers more an image of horror than of comfortable domestic life and pretty gardens. The cells confined few famous people we know of; this was a place for untold stories of immigrants and the urban poor. Walking through these abandoned cellblocks raises questions about who lived here, and the stories these walls would tell if they could speak.
The ability to erect monuments reflects a larger ability to create a historical consensus about the meaning of the place, person, or event that is being remembered. Yet we as a country have not recognized the full human impact of generations of incarceration on minority and immigrant communities. There is no consensus on how best to make amends or reparations for past injustices. In the meantime, the decaying hulk of the old Essex County Jail has waited fifty years in a state of limbo for the day when Newark and this country are ready to confront the legacies of oppression. As a public health, governance, economic, and policing crisis whip this country into turmoil, and as the neighboring New Jersey Institute of Technology continues demolishing dozens of old buildings nearby, time for this old jail is running out.


Graffiti on the jail entrance gate, photo by Myles Zhang

The Slave Trader Turned Banker: Slavery and the Origins of a Modern Bank

Based on primary sources and archival records of the slave trade
Written for Rebecca Scott’s history seminar: The Law in Slavery and Freedom
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Selling slaves equipped Liverpool merchant Thomas Leyland with the money to create what is now the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank of China. With profits from merchant trading and Caribbean slave sales, Leyland wrote thousands of letters to build a Transatlantic business. Analyzing these 250-year-old business records reveals the mechanisms of human trafficking.
From the comfortable distance of Liverpool, Bristol, and London, Leyland’s letters describe bodies he and his co-investors would never see some 4,500 miles away in the Caribbean. In an age before telegraphs, steamships, and rapid transcontinental communication, Leyland required a paper trail to carry out his orders. Across the distant branches of his global business empire, the medium of written letters linked these distant investments to London.
Thomas Leyland was a banker, trader, millionaire, and three times Mayor of Liverpool. Born 1752 to working class family of limited means, little land, and no royal titles, he chanced upon wealth when in 1776 he won £20,000 in the lottery. He was only twenty-four. This wealth he first invested in merchant ships to sell consumer goods and transport the likes of oats, peas, wheat, oatmeal, bacon, hogs, and lard from Irish farmers to British markets.[1] By 1783, with profits from these businesses, Leyland turned to the risk-intensive capital required to launch slave voyages, purchasing captives on the West African coast and selling them to cotton and sugar plantations in the Caribbean. His ~70 recorded slaving voyages transported an estimated 22,365 captives to the Americas, of whom about one in ten died during the months-long voyage. By his death in 1827, Leyland had amassed a fortune of some £600,000.[2]
Examination of his account books in Liverpool and at the University of Michigan show the 1789-90 journey of the Hannah with 294 African captives and the 1792-92 journey of the Jenny with 250 captives. Both year-long journeys began in Liverpool, sailed for West Africa, exchanged guns and cloth for human cargo, sold their captives in Jamaica, and then sailed home to Britain. His written correspondence of 2,262 letters also survives in the Liverpool Record Offices. Close reading of these documents in parallel – the ship manifest and the letter book – unpacks the mechanics and finances of Leyland’s slaving operation turned modern bank.
These documents reveal the mechanisms and mentality of a human trafficker. Never in them does Leyland claim – as a moral cover for their profit motives – that such African bodies were being saved from a darker fate of certain death from their African captors. These letters never claimed either that slavery was justified. Nor did Leyland use the cover of Christianity and the Christian language of missionary work to justify in his letters what he did to these Africans. His few written comments on the subject do not even recognize the need to justify slavery, the slave trade, or his role in it.[3]
Instead, the letters present the trafficking of human cargo in matter-of-fact language. In one day’s correspondence and from the same desk, Leyland ordered his agents to landscape the lawn of his country house, purchase grain from Ireland, deliver rum to an associate, and sell Africans in Jamaica. The tone of Leyland’s writing in flowing cursive script and flowery prose does not change, whether discussing matters as banal as drapery or as life changing as human trafficking. From Liverpool, Leyland managed business but at no point had he ever seen or inspected the human products he was buying, and nor did his London colleagues. In this way, these letters all describe slaves in the abstract, as bodies, as cargo, and profits per head sold. Leyland’s writing transforms the human body – a name, a person, a fate – into nothing more than a number on a page.

Watercolor of Leyland & Bullins bank on York Street in Liverpool in 1807. Bank offices at right. Leyland’s family home at left. Warehouse for Caribbean rum, Irish oats, and slave trade goods in rear. This building survives today unchanged. [4]

1. Preparing a Slave Ship: Manchester’s Industrial Revolution made Leyland’s slave trade possible.

From the comfort of his home office on York Street in Liverpool, shown above, Thomas Leyland secured potential buyers: He sent letters to colleagues in Liverpool and London. His colleagues each worked or owned outright sugar and cotton plantations in the Caribbean. Leyland informed each colleague when his ship of African captives was arriving in the Caribbean, and then asked if they were interested to buy from this ship. For instance, as Leyland wrote in August 1788 to James Baillie of London: “We shall be much obliged to you for your guarantee for your friends at Grenada, Dominica, & St. Vincent for the sale of the ship Christopher’s cargo. Captain Maxwell, who we expect to arrive in Barbados in December next with 250 to 270 Angola Negroes.”[5]
With letters of guarantee and promises from purchasers, Leyland then organized a slave ship. He contacted British manufacturers of clothes, fabric, silk, and other products. He transported them by land and then brought them aboard the Hannah to exchange for slaves. In March 1788, for instance, Leyland instructed Hannah Captain Charles Wilson to buy silk and cotton from Mr. Rawhuson in Manchester:
I request you will now order from Mather & Co 200 silk & cotton romalls, red, white blue, and with as little yellow in as possible, provided the price does not exceed about 14, the price heretofore paid by Caton [West African agent], who has explained to me how much preferable you will find this article in your trade.[6]
After loading 27 barrels of rum, fabric, and hundreds of other goods on the Hannah, Leyland drafted a detailed letter to Captain Wilson in June 1789. His letter inventoried the ship’s contents and suggested to Captain Wilson the ideal price to purchase and sell African captives. Leyland also shared in this letter to Wilson the names and addresses of Caribbean owners who had agreed to purchase Africans.


“Sales of 250 slaves imported in the ship Jenny, Captain William Stringer, from Angola on account of Thomas Leyland & Co, merchants in Liverpool” [7] Investor Thomas Leyland received two thirds of the profits. His cousin by marriage, Thomas Molyneux, received one third. Rather than listing captives by name, the center six columns list the number of slaves in each of six age groups: men, men-boys, boys, women, women-girls, and girls. Young girls without children or previous sexual relationships sold for a premium on slave markets. They were usually then raped by their new master, to produce mix-raced children who in turn were resold years later. In this way, girls’ bodies were investment vehicles to literally give birth to and extract future profits.

2. Managing a Slave Ship: The death of African captives was not an exception or flaw in Leyland’s financial system. Death was intentional and calculated to maximize profit.

What was the form and body of the ideal African captive to Leyland? Obedient. Docile. Young. Intelligent. But not too intelligent they could question authority.
The answers are found in ship manifests from the trade, instructions from English merchants to ship captains, and from plantation owners to their purchasers. They describe the bodies of captured peoples, their desired attributes, their height, gender, age, and physical form. For instance, Leyland wrote to Captain Wilson of the Hannah in 1789:
“It is most certain the healthy, young, and beautiful Negroes of that Country stand the only chance of being carried to a market in good condition.” In addition, consider “humanity and utmost tenderness to the Negroes, as particularly conducive to the prosperity of the voyage.” [8]
“Tenderness” and “humanity” did not code for the best interests and desires of the captives. Instead, these words code for Leyland’s desire that the captives were treated just well enough to survive and make it market on the 37-day transatlantic journey. In fact, Leyland budgeted to buy more slaves than he knew he would sell. He generally bought between five and ten percent more slaves per journey than he needed, in full knowledge that many would never make it across the ocean. When they died at sea, their bodies – on the orders of Captain Wilson – were tossed to the ocean. However, the Jenny and Hannah manifests neglected to mention deaths. In some cases, slave deaths were thought so unimportant and irrelevant that the names and ages of those who died were never recorded in writing.[9]
On arrival, Leyland negotiated prices with the auction houses of Michell & Daggers for the Hannah’s voyage, and Lindo & Lake for the Jenny’s voyage. Leyland had a rough idea of future profits. But when slaves arrived in Caribbean markets sick, tired, and near death, resale prices were lower. Leyland’s ships usually sold first in Barbados, St. Vincent, and the easternmost Caribbean islands. These were the Caribbean islands closest to West Africa. If no buyers were found in these markets, ships sailed 1,200 miles further west to Jamaica. The onward sail to Jamaica was always a risk because the longer Leyland held his captives, the more would die each day. As Leyland wrote to Captain Wilson: “Rather than accept of a low average [in Barbados] for a choice cargo, by all means proceed to Jamaica.[10] The longer he held his human merchandise of “choice cargo,” the lower its value. “Choice cargo” – be they human, fruit, or wheat to Leyland – all required fast turnaround and resale to maximize profit before they all spoiled.
Leyland timed his voyages and adjusted the ship’s contents in response to his predictions of market demand. Cotton prices and slave prices fluctuated seasonally. For some voyages, it was more profitable to exchange slaves for Caribbean cotton and rum, particularly if cotton was selling for high prices in British markets. For other voyages, promissory notes were preferable. For instance, as Leyland wrote to Captain Wilson on December 9, 1786: “We wish you to fill the ship with cotton of good quality if it can be got cheap, the present high prices cannot continue and we beg you will not agree to take any other produce on any consideration, so much money is likely to be lost by it.” [11]
The trade was immensely profitable. For instance, in the 1792-93 voyage of the Jenny, Leyland bought 5,940 yards of colorful printed cotton fabric from Manchester worth £234, or about £1 per 25 yards of fabric. When bartering fabric for slaves, the initial exchange price was suggested as just 25 yards of fabric, or the equivalent value of just £1.  That is, goods were purchased on the cheap in European markets and exchanged for profit in African markets.
By contrast, while Leyland suggested buying a slave for the equivalent of just £1, suggested resale values began at £46 in Caribbean markets. That is, slaves were sold for up to 46 times more than they were purchased. This voyage alone, based on purchasing slaves for £234 worth of fabric, yielded a gross income £13,500 from the sale of these same slaves. Of this £13,500, most went to labor costs, materials, and paying the captain and crew. The remaining ~£4,000 was Leyland’s profit


Associate of Thomas Leyland Sir Michael Cromie & Co.’s Ten-Guinea Promissory Note: “Promise to pay to Mr. Peter Robinsen [sic.] or bearer on demand TEN GUINEAS, after received LIVERPOOL 29 day of July 1801” [12]

3. Slave Financing: Selling slaves motivated Leyland to experiment with innovative new financial products and modern forms of finance.

At sale, slaves could be exchanged for rum, cotton, sugar, cash – or as Leyland increasingly used – promissory notes. A single slave might be exchanged one ton or more of cotton. A full slave ship might be exchanged for more cotton than could possibly fit on the return ship home. Therefore, exchange of slaves for more liquid cash and hard currency was preferable. Some Caribbean buyers had the money to do this; others did not.
Leyland therefore secured letters of promise. The ship manifest recorded the names of who bought slaves, the quantity purchased, and the price paid for each. Those without cash on hand, signed a promissory note with the number and value of slaves they purchased. The promissory notes, like the one showed above, was basically a check. But unlike a modern check, Leyland did not present the promissory note at his own bank. He instead presented the check at the London or Liverpool bank of the person from whom he purchased the slaves. This bank would verify if the check was valid and draw from their customer’s funds to give to Leyland. Leyland had to trust these letters were good, and that British corporations like Baillie & Co. would make good on their promise to refund. Trust was key. For instance, as Leyland wrote to Charles Wilson on August 31, 1788: “If you should be obliged to go to Jamaica you may apply to Messrs. Hibbert & Co as well as to Mr. Lindo, because their house in London will accept their bills.”[13]
Shortage of specie currency in the Caribbean and dangers of transporting money over long distances motivated Leyland to rely on handshake agreements, promissory notes, and checks in lieu of hard currency. However, there must have been many cases of buyers with bad credit histories. As Leyland warned Captain Wilson in December 1786: “Be very particularly in your agreements with the house who sells your cargo, of by that means all disputes or any disappointment may be avoided.”[14] Leyland must have learned the dangers of promissory notes from hard experience. For instance, in August 1788, he wrote to Joseph Barton who had taken goods from Leyland without payment: “I now enclose Captain Swainston’s protest, which I hope will enable you to settle the average on the ship. [….] Favor me with these accounts as soon as possible.”[15] Later in September 1788, with still no payments made, Leyland again scolded Barton: “I much fear after payment of the bond debts.”[16]
Promissory notes were also loans. For instance, a buyer could draw up a letter promising to pay, even if there was not enough money in his bank account at that time to make good the payment. Before entering banking, Leyland experimented with using slaves as collateral on loans. In short, the planter agreed to repay him in increments of 6, 12, or 18 months later, based on future profits.[17]
This practice allowed buyers to speculate on slaves, to buy slaves with money they did not have, and to pay off the slave debt with future profits from slave labor. In other words, slaves became collateral on loans and could be taken back by creditors over unpaid debt.
Captain Wilson had a lot of responsibility: to buy slaves, transport them, draw up legally binding sale documents, and help Leyland collect loan payment from British banks. In an age before credit scores and modern banks, Leyland’s financial system relied on building long-term business relationships, handshake agreements, gossip, and word of mouth. Most of all, Leyland’s system relied on trust. If a slave buyer did not have enough money, could Leyland trust to loan him money?
The size of an ocean allowed Leyland to comfortably collect profits from captives he never saw or met. Leyland’s letters distanced him from site of his crimes. Slavery and death became abstract to Leyland, reduced to mere numbers and tick marks on a page. But this same ocean made communication and reimbursement difficult. London merchants had to commit to buying slaves in Caribbean markets they never saw. Liverpool slavers had to hand the day-to-day responsibility of managing a ship to captains like Charles Wilson, who could disappear while at sea during months without contact. Caribbean buyers had to buy slaves and draw up promissory notes, hoping there was enough money in London markets to cash the notes.

Thomas Leyland [18]

Leyland associate Christopher Bullin [19]

4. Leyland Turned Benefactor and Banker: Leyland used profits and skills learned from the slave trade to fund charitable works and create his bank. Within weeks of the slave trade becoming illegal, Leyland “laundered” the dirty profits from slavery into the clean and legal profits of global finance.

As slave records reveal, there was financial risk at each stage of the journey. In response to risk, Leyland was strategic. He was co-investor in several ships at a time. If any one adventure failed or sunk at sea, his investments were not all in one place. He left an extensive paper trail to record who had paid him, and who had not. His most useful tool, however, was the promissory note. Skills to manage risk, collect payment, and transport goods all equipped him with skills for the next stage of his career: from the dirty trade of slavery to the “clean” trade of banking.
Leyland later turned to public service, charitable works, and elected office. He made it is his life’s work to stamp out the unethical business practices of other Liverpool merchants in the public market stalls. As one biographer described Leyland:
There was no more strenuous supporter of the rights of the people against the oppression of the middleman than Thomas Leyland. Whether he remembered his own early struggles, or whether his sense of justice was keen, we do not know. But for the engrosser, the forestaller, the regrater he had no mercy. He, during his mayoralty of the memorable year 1814-15, made his name a terror to these evil-doers. Thomas Leyland was accustomed to visit the markets personally, and brought to justice those guilty of these offences.[20]
How do we reconcile Leyland the human trafficker responsible for thousands of deaths with his reputation as a “strenuous supporter of the rights of the people against the oppression”? Was Leyland aware of this irony? Probably not. Leyland likely never thought of his actions as wrong and immoral. Instead, it probably never occurred to him that his African captives had humanity. It remains, however, near impossible to intuit Leyland’s psychology and intentions from his records that survive. What remains clear, though, is the desire for profit.
Leyland’s letters convey a keen sense of the protestant work ethic, of frugality, of following up with customers for even the smallest expenses, and of reimbursing employees and partners for anything he owed them. In an age before standard modern banking, and in a time when most Liverpool merchants borrowed from each other, Leyland’s reputation in the community was key. A good standing in the community made for good business and built up a reputation as trustworthy. As Hughes and Rankin describe, most early Liverpool banks started as no more than a desk and ledger in a merchant’s back office:
Our predecessors were frugal, too. It was told of the above Mr. Leyland that when the Bank was in York Street and he one winter’s evening in his dwelling-house next door, a customer was ushered in. The old gentleman who was sitting in darkness assumed that the purpose of the call was to bank some belated cash, and promptly lit a candle. Finding, however, that the client had only come to discuss a loan in private, he said: ‘Ah, well, we can quite as well talk that over in the dark,’ and promptly blew the candle out.[21]
After abolition of Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1806, Leyland used profits from slave sales to establish Leyland & Bullins Bank in 1807. His partner was his nephew and fellow slave ship merchant Richard Bullin. Leyland & Bullins operated continuously in Liverpool as an independent and family-owned bank. Leyland & Bullins was then acquired in 1901 by North & South Wales Bank, which was in turn acquired by the London Joint City & Midland Bank in 1908. From about 1918 to 1934, Midland ranked as the world’s largest bank by number of customer deposits. Midland Bank built its headquarters opposite the street from the Bank of England.  Midland Bank, sitting on the edge of bankruptcy in 1992, was in turn acquired by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.
Two centuries after slavery, the records of Leyland & Bullins are now stored in the buried archives of HSBC.[22] At each stage of the journey, money moved from account to account and bank to bank. But trace back the chain of ownership and find the slave sale that first made this wealth possible. As the conversation continues on reparations for slavery, the question remains: What is the responsibility of companies today to pay reparations for slavery?


  • 1783:  Leyland’s first slave voyage
  • 1806:  Leyland’s last slave voyage; Transatlantic Slave Trade abolished
  • 1807:  Leyland & Bullins created with slave trade profits
  • 1901:  Merged with North & South Wales Bank
  • 1908:  Merged with Midland Bank
  • 1992:  Merged with HSBC
  • Today:  The records from Leyland’s slave trading and banking operations are stored in the archives of HSBC’s British headquarters


[1] John Hughes, “Chapter XIV: Leyland and Bullins,” in Liverpool Banks & Bankers, 1760-1837: A history of the circumstances which gave rise to the industry and of the men who founded and developed it (London: Henry Young & Sons, 1906), pp.169-82.

[2] Biography of Thomas Leyland by British Online Archives.

[3] Sowande’ M. Muskateem, “Imagined Bodies,” in Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2016), pp. 36-54.

[4] W.P. Gray, “Watercolour of the offices of Leyland and Bullins in Liverpool, UK,” Digital Collections of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, accessed April 10, 2023,

[5] Letter from Thomas Leyland to James Baillie of Grenada, August 13, 1788, folio 732 (page 779), accessed through Liverpool Record Office.

[6] Letter from Thomas Leyland to cloth manufacturer Mr. Rawhuson of Manchester, March 18 to 20, 1788, folio 596 (page 643).

[7] Thomas Leyland Company account books for the Jenny’s 1789-1790 voyage, University of Michigan: William L. Clements Library.

[8] Thomas Leyland Company account books for the Jenny 1792-1793, University of Michigan: William L. Clements Library.

[9] Ibid., Hannah.

[10] Letter from Thomas Leyland to Captain Charles Wilson, August 31, 1788, folio 755 (page 802).

[11] Letter from Thomas Leyland to Charles Wilson, December 9, 1786, folio 202 (page 249).

[12] Letter from Thomas Leyland to Captain Charles Wilson, August 31, 1788, folio 755 (page 802).

[13] “Sir Michael Cromie & Co.’s Ten-Guinea Promissory Note,” in Liverpool Banks & Bankers, 1760-1837, pp.160.

[14] Joshua D. Rothman, “Chapter 1: Origins 1789-1815,” in The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America (New York: Basic Books, 2021), pp. 9-13.

[15] Letter from Thomas Leyland to Charles Wilson, December 9, 1786, folio 202 (page 249).

[16] Letter from Thomas Leyland to William Barton of Barbados & Joseph Barton of London, August 9, 1788, folio 726 (page 773).

[17] Letter from Thomas Leyland to William Barton of Barbados & Joseph Barton of London, September 11, 1788, folio 777 (page 824).

[18] Letter from Thomas Leyland to Charles Wilson, August 4, 1788, folio 718 (page 765).

[19] Artist unkown, “Portrait of Thomas Leyland,” in Liverpool Banks & Bankers, 1760-1837, pp. 168.

[20] Ibid., “Portrait of Christopher Bullin,” pp. 174.

[21] John Hughes, “Thomas Leyland,” in Liverpool Banks & Bankers, 1760-1837, pp.174.

[22] John Rankin, “Chapter XVI: Retrospective and Discursive Reminiscences of Commercial Liverpool Sixty Years Ago,” in A History of our Firm Being some account of the firm of Pollock, Gilmour & Co. and its offshoots and connections 1804-1920, Liverpool: Henry Young & Sons Limited, 1921).

[23] “About this Collection of Leyland & Bullins,” Digital Collections of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, accessed April 10, 2023,

Does the American city need a new “public entrepreneur” like Robert Moses?

Performing winter 2022 at The Shed in Hudson Yards is Straight Line Crazy, a two-act play about Robert Moses. He was New York City’s leading planner from the 1930s through 1960s, responsible for 35 highways, 12 bridges, 658 playgrounds and over 2 million acres of parks. Since the publication of Robert Moses’s 1974 biography The Power Broker by Robert Caro, Moses has been variously remembered for the thousands of projects he completed, admired for those public parks that brought communities together, hated for his proposal to carve an expressway through Lower Manhattan, and despised for those infrastructure projects that divided non-White communities.
Act one builds up Robert Moses as the Oxford-Columbia educated planner but with slight populist tendencies in his construction of Jones Beach and hundreds of playgrounds. This script for public consumption is of course incomplete without the mandatory repetition – originating from The Power Broker – that bridges over the access roads to public beaches were too short for buses of Black people to pass under.
Act two takes down Moses by trotting through the usual history with mentions of the 1960s Cross Bronx Expressway. Out of 250,000 people displaced citywide for “slum clearance” and “urban renewal” projects, that highway alone displaced some 40,000 people – mostly tenements of working-class immigrants. In the final scene, a young Black architect employed in Moses’s office repeats James Baldwin’s 1963 claim that “urban renewal means … Negro removal” and confronts Moses saying that her family and everyone she knows was displaced for the Cross Bronx.


Animation of the path of the Cross Bronx Expressway before and after

That a city planner should be the subject of an off-Broadway play speaks to the enduring power of Robert Moses in the public imagination. Robert Moses succeeded in a profession now weighed down by paperwork and bureaucracy. In his complete vision of a city and ability to execute projects in face of the odds, Robert Moses represents the total power many planners and architects today secretly – or not so secretly – wished they had. Like him or hate him, we cannot seem to forget him.
Since the 1960s civil rights movement, the public judgement on Robert Moses has become clear. The public is now deeply and rightly skeptical of designing cities around cars, highways, and public housing towers. For me to say I am theoretically from “The Projects” immediately brings to the public’s mind images of poor Black and non-White neighbors confined to decaying brick towers set in barren landscapes of poverty and incarceration. Under Robert Moses, New York City completed upwards of 100,000 units of public housing set in near identical towers.
In the play’s closing minutes, activist urbanist Jane Jacobs turns to the audience and announces: “Robert Moses’s plans to demolish Greenwich Village were stopped. But visit that neighborhood today and you will see gentrification has exiled from the community the very artists and small businesses that had fought to save their homes. We activists succeeded, but not in the way we had hoped.”
Stepping out from The Shed after the play, the towers and shopping malls of Hudson Yards surrounded me, acres of glass and luxury shops for handbags, watches, and clothes with not a bodega or homeless person in sight. Hudson Yards is, after all, publicly accessible but privately owned public space. Who can and cannot use it depends on the whims of Vornado, the company that owns the complex. A project like Hudson Yards – and the thousands of soulless skyscrapers like it that now appear in Manhattan and every major world city – is a direct product of the 1960s resistance to Robert Moses that began on the human-scale streets of the Greenwich Village.
If government is the problem and Robert Moses the racial symbol of what happens when government goes too far, then government cannot be counted on and cannot be trusted to provide the solutions for our time. Affordable housing, healthcare, internet, water, parks, even prisons, all these services and more are now provided by private markets. Affordable housing policies, too, require that new developers of luxury units set aside a fraction as affordable housing. In the trickle-down philosophy that “a rising tides lifts all boats,” the construction of affordable housing hinges on the success of luxury housing. To propose that only the state should be empowered to provide these services is – to follow the logic of Fox, CNN, and similar mainstream commentators – Socialism.


In his 1981 inaugural address, Ronald Reagan summed up the new political philosophy he planned for the nation: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. [….] The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.”
Yet, for Reagan to condemn the likes of Robert Moses as “an elite group,” society has come to rely on a new set of masters in private markets and private equity – un-elected forces more powerful than Robert Moses. Global charities shuddered when Bill and Melinda Gates divorced, for fear that their divorce would spell the end of their non-profit that donates billions to charity. The mainstream media shuddered again when Elon Musk bought Twitter, for fear that new ownership would empower conservatives, Donald Trump, and liberals alike to spread misinformation. The retreat of government from public life mirrors growing income inequality, a worsening climate crisis, rising cost of living, and critical infrastructure projects that can never quite seem to get off the ground.
Planners, politicians, and activists now comfort themselves in the belief that we have “learned from history.” In an attempt to reconnect communities, efforts in Detroit, Seattle, Rochester, Boston, and across the country are demolishing the very highway projects from the likes of Robert Moses that once divided communities. Progress has been slow and funding hard to unlock in an age of austerity. In abandoning the philosophy of Robert Moses, we have also abandoned the very tools of government through which to keep people like Robert Moses in check. This is the key problem with modern liberalism, particularly the variety endemic to liberal college campuses and the State of California: It condemns public housing projects and state-driven urban renewal projects; it also condemns gentrification and private control of public space, public water, and public goods. And yet, the solution to corporate gentrification is an aggressive set of government polices that defends and builds more public housing. We need modern day policies to stitch communities back together that are as powerful and as aggressive as those policies that divided them.
The lesson to learn from Robert Moses is not that he was a bad planner, a “racist,” or a car enthusiast. The lesson to learn is that there will be inevitable power asymmetries in society, but that we have the power to choose our masters. In the end, Robert Moses was pushed out of power in 1968 by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller; the political winds had changed and with it the power brokers. In the end, Robert Moses died in 1981 with only $50,000 in assets to his name; Reagan had just been elected president, and Trump Tower was under construction. Six years later, Donald Trump would write in The Art of the Deal where, among many topics and real estate advice, he described his power to serve the public good through private enterprise. As Robert Moses rebuilt Central Park’s dozens of playgrounds and public spaces in the 1930s, Trump would rebuild the park’s Wollman Rink in the 1980s as publicly subsidized but privately owned “public” space. Trump assessed his work and the “public” spaces he created with taxpayer subsidies: “It was a simple, accessible drama about the contrast between governmental incompetence and the power of effective private enterprise. [….] During most of the construction, the city stayed out of our way – in large part because I instructed my men to keep park officials off the site. When they did try to interfere, it inevitably turned into disaster.” (link) The reach of today’s corporate power brokers in un-elected office is more powerful than Robert Moses ever was, and the public’s mechanisms to control them remains unclear. Nothing less than the future of democracy is in the balance.


David and Goliath

Who Owns Newark? A Case Study of One Building


“Between 2017 and 2020, 2,500 homes – more than 47 percent of the city’s one-to-four unit buildings – were sold to institutional buyers. In Newark, many of the properties were bought by completely anonymous investors, prompting the title of a report from Rutgers University law school, Who Owns Newark? Transferring Wealth from Newark Homeowners to Corporate Buyers.
As documented in this 73-page report, anonymous shell companies are now purchasing majorities of Newark homes and commercial spaces. Properties that Newark’s Black and Hispanic residents would otherwise own are now going to absentee landlords and invisible owners. The higher rate of absentee ownership is directly linked to rent increases and higher rates of eviction, particularly of poor and middle-class Black families. (source)
Just two of these several thousand properties are located at 569 and 571-577 Broad Street. Their ambiguous and hidden ownership mirrors the larger transfer of inter-generational wealth out of Newark. A case study of just these two properties parallels one for one concerns identified in the report Who Owns Newark? (source)
The two-story building at 571-577 Broad Street sold in 2019 for 4.2 million to a company named 569 Broad, LLC (source). No information is available about this LLC, aside from its business address: 400 Kelby Street, 14th Floor, Fort Lee, NJ. The only other company cross-listed at this same address is Cross River Bank with assets totaling 9.9 billion. As identified in the Rutgers report, business owners often create LLCs and shell companies to hide the full extent of their holdings.
The three-story building at 569 Broad Street sold in 2022 for 4.25 million to a company named 569-571 Broad, LLC (source) No other information is available, aside from the owner’s business address: 831 Bedford Ave, #515. This appears to be a fifth-floor unit in a private apartment building with security bars on all windows up to the top floor. A public database search of businesses registered in New York City and New York State reveals no licensed companies operating out of this address.
Within the same few months that the new owner acquired both properties, all small business owners were evicted or their leases were not renewed. Both buildings, which were majority occupied as early as three years ago, are now abandoned. This could be a case of manufactured blight and manufactured decline, as the new owner is now claiming both buildings are too decayed to save and must be demolished. The ejected minority-owned businesses include: 1) Nujoom’s Hookah Lounge, 2) Seventy Sixes Barber Shop, 3) Las Delicias De Mi Gente Cafe, 4) Ahio Immigration Law Office, 5) Goddess Lounge Salon & Spa, 6) Subway Sandwich, 7) Lan Mark Juice & Kitchen, and 8) Panda Chinese Restaurant.


The question remains: Who bought these properties? Who is the owner? We still do not know. However, as revealed as a footnote in documents submitted for the October 3 Central Planning Board meeting, both properties are owned by the same developer, a certain Israel Weiss from Ocean View Management (source). This company has no website, no public business profile, and no list of past projects they have completed. In fact, the company has almost zero presence in internet search results. Despite remaining almost invisible, the developer is now proposing to build a 45-story skyscraper at this location. In a city with median family income 37K, 80% of the 344 units will be for incomes upwards of 100K, while the remaining 20% will be for incomes between 80K and 100K. Who will live here? Certainly not current Newark residents! Normally, projects this large and ambitious come from developers with visible public profiles and track records of previous skyscrapers.
Over five public meetings that Mr. Weiss convened with the city and with James Street Commons residents, not once did he show his face over 15 hours of Zoom. The developer still remains for most intents and purposes anonymous and invisible, pulling the strings behind the scenes and directing his lawyer Calvin Souder to speak for him by text message communication during meetings.
However, further research reveals Mr. Weiss’s 2014 interview (source) discussing techniques of rent collection as a landlord for BHI Properties in Columbia, NJ.[1] A 2014 article described the trend in and near Columbia, NJ of outside investors buying up hundreds of homes that would otherwise go to homeowners and converting these units from homes to rental properties. This is identical to the trend Newark now sees in 2022. From the article: “BHI Properties set up shop in 2005 when a New York City investor in the company noticed how cheap housing was in the historic town. Israel Weiss is managing the most rentals in Columbia.” (source)
In a story as old as this country, renters do not build up home equity to have a stake and property rights in the communities where they live. Add to this histories of redlining since the 1930s which, as documented by legal scholar Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law, systematically denied non-White Americans the opportunities and financing they deserved for homeownership. The continuing failure to give Black and urban Americans equal opportunities for home ownership and self-determination continues this history of racialized space. As Mr. Weiss clarified in his interview, renting to cash-strapped communities is more profitable than selling homes to them: “The rent those people are paying are higher than what a homeowner would have paid in mortgage. So they got to earn it somewhere. Obviously, they’re earning it and paying their rent every month.”
Who is this developer? James Street Commons and Newark residents do not know. One thing, though, remains certain: The developer does not want us to know him. The question remains: Why?


[1] There are several people in New Jersey by the name Israel Weiss. This Israel Weiss is to the best of my research the same Israel Weiss as the person behind this project.

Newark Changing: Mapping neighborhood demolition, 1950s to today

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Newark Changing is a first-of-its-kind visual encyclopedia of 2,400 photo comparisons of almost every street corner​​​, home, and building ​​demolished by urban renewal and the social forces behind urban decay.​ Through an interactive and text-searchable historic map, any visitor can travel in time to explore their street and their building as it appeared in the period 1959-68 vs. today. Thousands of old street photos are brought to life with contemporary 360-degree panoramic photos of the same street scenes today, taken from identical camera angles to the old photos. This is the most extensive collection of photo comparisons past and present ever assembled for any American city.
Newark Changing reveals the scale and devastation of urban renewal, not from the aerial perspective of the city planner’s map but from the human perspective of the street corner and neighborhood. Tens of thousands of individual streets, homes, apartments, churches, and Jewish, Black, and Italian-owned businesses in Newark were “redlined” in the 1930s and deprived of investment. Most of these neighborhoods today have been bulldozed for interstate highways, universities, hospitals, and corporate investments in real estate. Billions in taxpayer money (adjusted for today’s value with inflation) was spent in the period 1945 to 1967 to demolish at least 10,000 buildings, displacing 50,000 people, 65-77% of whom were Black. At the same time, the migration of people and jobs away from urban centers deprived cities like Newark of the industrial employment base they once had. Decades after the 1967 rebellion, Newark still struggles to confront and overcome decades of harm inflicted on the city by de-industrialization and population loss to the suburbs.
Street scenes can be browsed by interactive map, by neighborhood, by subject, by street, or by the public institution responsible for demolition. Visitors can thus travel in time to explore today’s empty fields, parking lots, and desolate streetscapes for the vibrant neighborhoods they were before the automobile age.

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The Time Columbia Built an Artificial Moon in Low Library


Low Library in 1905


The best definition of a university is, to my mind, a city from which the universe can be surveyed. It is the universe compressed into a city the size of Morningside Heights.
Aesthetically ancient but technologically advanced, Low Library rose to this challenge in the 1890s. Buried within hundreds of tons of Milford granite, Indiana limestone, and the unchanging architecture of antiquity were the latest technologies: electricity, steam heating, Corliss steam engines, and internal plumbing in a time when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers still used outhouses and made less than five dollars a day. Flushing toilets – also known as crappers after Thomas Crapper who perfected their flush mechanism – were also a relatively new consumer product. It has always surprised me how the bathroom stalls at Low Library are divided by marble partitions of the highest quality that must weigh several hundred pounds each. Low Library was indeed built at a time when toilets were something to celebrate, in addition to books of course.
The goal of a great library was to collapse the universe into the size of a room. From the dome’s center was suspended a seven-foot-diameter white ball, which Scientific American described in 1898 as “Columbia’s artificial moon.” So that students could read by moonlight under a canopy of stars, this moon was illuminated against a dome painted dark to resemble the night sky. So in awe was Scientific American that they devoted as much page space to describing Low Library as to documenting the mechanics of this moon with mathematical formulas. With no other point of reference except candles, scientists calculated Columbia’s moon as equivalent in power to 3,972 candles.


From April 1898 issue of Scientific American


The only trouble was the lightbulbs’ carbon filament could only burn for 2.5 hours before “Columbia’s artificial moon” went dark. Scientists had not yet perfected the technologies of light. As a result, Columbia needed to replace the carbon filaments daily and could only illuminate the universe between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. And yet, in line with Columbia’s Latin motto “In lumine tuo videbimis lumen” (In your light we see the light), Low Library was flanked by the emerging research departments of the global research university: physics, chemistry, mathematics, mining, engineering, and architecture. Then as now, these fields were seen as the frontiers of human knowledge.
For all the university’s focus on science, its core is built on the art and literature of antiquity. Low Library’s walls are several feet thick, thicker than was necessary in 1890s America that had moved on from heavy stone construction to steel-frame skeletal structures for skyscrapers and railroad stations. From Scientific American: “The imposing pile which forms the home of the college library looks down upon the great metropolis of the New World with something surely of the same pride with which the Parthenon of old surveyed the ancient Athenian city.” America – flush with wealth after conquering indigenous peoples in the American west – saw itself as inheriting the values of ancient Greece and Rome. New York, the American empire’s economic capital, needed cultural and intellectual symbols of power to match. Low Library was this symbol.


Civilization at left: Harper’s Weekly: The Journal of Civilization featured Low Library on its front cover
Colonialism at right: Scientific American described Low Library’s construction on the same page as an article about tree stump removal in the American west


Part of the ambition – and also hubris – of Low Library was the desire to bring all knowledge under one roof. From the reference desk in the dome’s center, librarians could, in the sweep of the eye, survey the entire collection. Curved reading desks were arranged in rings around this centerpiece, like the orbits of planets that circled the sun. From the reference desk beneath the dome’s “starry firmament on high” came the source of all knowledge and all power, as if the library were a planetarium of Biblical proportions.
Rather than the church altar as visual centerpiece, like the altar in the Roman Pantheon on which Low Library was modeled, the mechanical moon and the quiet, methodical work of librarians were the visual centers of attention. Low Library’s architectural form – historically associated with religion – was adapted to new uses as a temple of reason. By contrast, Columbia University’s chapel was only an afterthought, built years later and barely visible from the College Walk. While the Gothic university chapel was the visual centerpiece of traditional universities, the library was the symbolic center of Columbia’s campus. This was a campus “made in the image of” the modern research university. The pursuit of truth was given architectural form and made its home in the university campus.

Low Library’s moon weighing 400 to 500 pounds was removed in 1965

Columbia had fewer than one million books in the 1890s, in contrast to over 13 million books today shelved across dozens of libraries. As industrialization in the image of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line spread to other fields like publishing, the printing and selling of books became cheaper. The market was flooded with books, and Columbia’s Low Library – built for a rarified time when books were more expensive – became too small. The collections soon outgrew their intended home, prompting the construction of Butler Library. The Butler stacks – lined with thousands of metal shelves, accessible by only one entrance behind a security desk, and organized by the Dewey Decimal System – symbolize the mechanization of knowledge. If Low Library resembles a temple of reason, the fireproof stacks of Butler Library resemble a bank vault. By the 1920s, many of the same technologies employed in the design of bank vaults were also employed in the design of libraries. The names of dozens of Columbia spaces named after wealthy donors also attest to the fact that architectural form follows finance. Columbia’s campus, although built in the eternal image of ancient Rome, was funded with New York fortunes made and lost in the speculative bubbles of Wall Street.
Except as an event space, Low Library’s rotunda has remained empty for decades. But the unmet challenge of adapting an ancient library to new uses should not be read as a failure. Architecture must serve the university’s vision. Architecture must make the university’s ideals of tolerance, diversity, and free speech visible in stone, metal, and wood. As much as Low Library represented one way of thinking, its monumental emptiness symbolizes a university that has moved on to include new voices in an expanded definition of the universe, such as women and other groups excluded from higher education for most of American history. The Core Curriculum, too, once limited to the literature of Greece and Rome now lives across departments and includes global voices. In ways both technological and metaphorical, the university has advanced beyond a vision of the universe illuminated for only two hours per day.
The university Columbia has become is radically different from President Seth Low’s time. It is culturally richer for these changes and for the 1968 protests occupying Low Library and Hamilton Hall. Low Library – the symbolic and visual center of Columbia’s campus – might have taken a few years to build, but the goal of building a university requires the labor of generations of scholars, administrators, and activist students. Like the universe, the university was not built in a day.


Low Library Dome Interior, from Wikimedia Commons

We cannot design our way out of this crisis.


Design is supposed to solve the problems of pandemic and climate crisis. This is flawed thinking. The apostles of architecture, technology, and design confront crisis with what they call “design thinking.” They claim they can design our world out of crisis through new technologies: sustainable product packaging, vegetable-based meat substitutes, paper bags instead of plastic, wind and solar instead of coal and oil. Meanwhile, the global super rich build space ships that will allow them to one day escape the mess they made of our planet. “Design thinking” becomes a way of escaping this world entirely.
The techno-optimism of “design thinking” fails to recognize that “design thinking” is itself a poison. The problem is not with design per se. Rather, the problem is with the corporate power structures in which “design thinking” operates. They promise electric cars will replace fossil-fueled cars that pollute. They promise New-Orleans-style levees and elevated houses built on stilts will reduce property damage in flood zones. They promise improved artificial intelligence will stop the virus of online hate speech. They promise we are just one more consumer purchase away from happiness. But this techno-optimism does not address the deeper questions: Why are we not designing a society in which people do not need cars? Why are we building in flood zones in the first place? Why must the profit model of social media networks rely on users spending as must time as possible on their platforms, even when boosting engagement results in exposing users to hate speech? The limited palette of “design thinking” overlooks systemic solutions that require fundamental, but overdue, lifestyle changes.
The entrenched powers that be insist on inserting themselves into whatever solution is presented, when the real medicine needed might be a society in which the powers that be do not exist. It should alarm us all that tech company executives, who resist government regulation and changes to their platforms, restrict their own children from using the very platforms they designed. Online retailers now sell devices to help addicts like us spend less time on our phones, which begs the question whether such anti-phone technologies would even be necessary had phones been designed as less addictive from the start. In a 2010 interview, Mark Zuckerberg described that designers must have empathy for the people who use their products. However, if designing products to be addictive to users makes the designer more profit, then a tension is created where the needs of the user and the desires of the designer work at cross-purposes. Unless “design thinking” is uncoupled from motives of pure profit, design alone will not fix a world in crisis.
Take the twisted logic of Shell Oil rebranding itself as a company specializing in “renewables” and “green energy.” This seems to be the equivalent of a drug dealer selling both the drugs that will kill and then cure the addict. Last year, the public relations team at Shell announced that, by 2050, their company will have net-zero emissions. Offshore oilrigs will be carbon neutral because they will be powered by solar panels and wind turbines. What this “design thinking” hides is the deeper reality that no oil rig, no matter how well designed, can be good for our planet’s health or our own.
“Design thinking” innovates within the existing railroad tracks of a consumer society. Why should a tire company design an affordable tire never runs flat? Why should a bottled water company advocate for clean water laws that make tap water safer to drink? Why should a shoe company design a mass-market shoe that never falls apart? The existing market structure rewards profitable behavior and profitable design, which is different from ethical design. The ethical designer is likely to create the very conditions of their unemployment. The shoemaker who sells a shoe that lasts forever has just lost herself a future customer. “Design thinking” is like a railroad track. Innovation is possible within set limits, but the train must move forward. The products of design – be they cars, houses, or phones – must sell and ideally resell to returning customers.
The world needs a design revolution, not more “design thinking.” Maybe a design revolution produces architecture as stable and as lasting as the monuments of ancient Rome. Maybe a design revolution restricts the sophistication of cell phone design to the way phones were in the 1990s, clunky so that we are not tempted to stare at them for endless hours. Maybe a design revolution makes technology so easy to repair and upgrade that users need only buy one device that lasts for life. Is the 1/16th inch reduction in iPhone width really worth the environmental cost of millions of tons of landfill waste? These changes require revolution, not reform. No institution – just as much as no person – can imagine a world in which they do not exist. But that is the way design needs to be. Designers should be like doctors, who treat the patient and send them on their merry way. The doctor who never needs to see their cancer patient again has done their job and done their job well. Maybe a design revolution creates a world with fewer designers and less “design thinking.” And maybe a world with less design will be better place.
It is a strange world indeed where we have the unbelievably complex technology to shoot Jeff Bezos on a rocket to outer space, but we do not have the technology to design Apple phone and laptop chargers that last more than a few months. I have gone through at least a dozen iPhone chargers, all in different colors, shapes, and sizes but none that could last. Designers a century ago predicted that, thanks to “design thinking” and technology improvements, people today would have lives of leisure “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, [and] rear cattle in the evening.” Why Americans are working as hard as ever and are as burdened as ever with debt from their consumer purchases is one of the miracles of modern society. A better world is possible, but that world requires nothing short of revolutionary thinking. The only limit to what is possible is what we think is possible.

A Different Kind of Radiant City: Bucharest

Comparing Le Corbusier’s plans for Paris with Ceaușescu’s plans for Bucharest



Abstract: Comparing Le Corbusier’s unrealized plans for Paris and dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s completed plans for the Romanian capital Bucharest reveals similarities in their urban forms. Analysis of three features in both cities – their nineteenth-century urban forms, the integration of twentieth-century plans into the existing urban forms, and the political symbolism of each plan – reveals the two places as reflections of each other. The comparison matters because it establishes an unconscious aesthetic link between the progressive (almost utopian) urban designs of an architect like Le Corbusier and the repressive (almost dystopian) urban designs of a dictator like Ceaușescu.


Utopia and totalitarianism are both engaged in a mirroring game, tirelessly sending the same image back and forth as if utopia were nothing more than the premonition of totalitarianism and totalitarianism the tragic execution of the utopian dream. Only the distance that separates a dream from its realization seems to stand between the two.

– Frédéric Rouvillois
Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World [1]


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The so-called “Free World” of capitalist democracies in Western Europe and North America has long been contrasted against socialist regimes in Asia and Eastern Europe. Long since the fall of communism, the political game continues. The two forces are represented in western media as if locked in a battle of good vs. evil: the so-called freedom and tolerance of western ideas vs. the so-called isolation and intolerance of foreign places without “free and fair elections” like China and Russia. The conventional narrative of architectural history contrasts the two worlds: the glass-walled and transparent skyscrapers for international corporations that pierce the skies of European and American cities vs. the massive geometry in stone for Soviet ministries with opaque and Orwellian sounding names like the Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives. Students are told the two worlds built in different styles and used architecture for contrasting ideological purposes.
What this political narrative leaves out is the “mirroring game” between regions. Leading civil engineers like the Swiss-born Robert Maillart and architects like the Swiss-born Le Corbusier traveled to and built government projects in Moscow. Russian architects admired the tapering limestone mass of New York City’s Municipal Building and adapted this form with few modifications for the shape of the prototypical Soviet skyscraper. The widespread demolition and rebuilding of cities that utopian architects proposed sometimes found a more receptive audience in Eastern European cities than in the capitalist cities of Western Europe that were anchored to tradition and private property. To analyze the mirroring game and to break down the false dualism of the “free” vs. “un-free worlds” is too much for one essay.
Instead, this essay will analyze the “mirroring game” between two cities. This article will compare the urban form of Paris – that imperial and industrial capital of the nineteenth century – with Bucharest. As a form of endearment, Bucharest’s residents nickname their city “Paris of the East” because of the quantity of French-inspired art and architecture from the nineteenth century. What interests me is less the old buildings of Paris and Bucharest because both cities are rich in neoclassical civic buildings and bourgeois apartment houses inserted into the late medieval fabric of streets. What interests me more is the twentieth-century history of these cities where they took divergent paths.
In Paris, massive urban renewal plans for modernist style “towers in the park” were made in Le Corbusier’s 1925 Plan Voisin. The un-built proposal would have demolished all of central Paris to carve through a superhighway lined with tower apartment blocks. This linear city was to be the capital of the new French state, which Le Corbusier hoped would be governed by a technocrat elite instead of fickle elected politicians. Le Corbusier’s plans for Paris would have produced a landscape devoid of the features people like most about Paris: its crooked and narrow corridor streets, pedestrian boulevards, and diverse building types built in the uniform earth tones of limestone. Paris would have lost all this.[2]
In Bucharest, comparable plans were realized in the 1980s during a brutal process that demolished a quarter of the central city. Over 40,000 people were displaced in the largest peacetime destruction of a capital city in European history, second to Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris. Dozens of churches were smashed and thousands were relocated, often with a day’s notice and with requirements that they sign and pay for the demolition of their own homes. In its place, Romania’s dictator carved through a French-style boulevard wider and longer than the Champs-Élysées that was lined with parking spaces and tower apartment blocks.[3]
The comparison of Paris and Bucharest is richer than just an analysis of “the distance that separates a dream from its realization.” The differences between the two programs of urban renewal are just as revealing as their similarities. At the formal level, the rebuilding plans for Paris and Bucharest have little in common. The “towers in the park” on the outskirts of Paris have all the attributes of modern structures: horizontal bands of windows, concrete walls, flat roofs, and an aversion to ornament of any kind. By contrast, the 1980s urban renewal apartments and government ministries along Bucharest’s main boulevard are anti-modern. Although built with modern technologies, their external architectural language parodies antiquity with arches, columns, cornices, and limestone. Because of superficial differences between Paris and Bucharest, the comparison of their urban renewal plans has never been made. Nonetheless, the comparison reveals the modernist streak behind Ceaușescu’s built urban form, as well as the oppressive streak behind Le Corbusier’s unbuilt urban form. Understanding the mirroring game between Paris and Bucharest presents the utopian and totalitarian states as mirrors of each other, where one is “the premonition of totalitarianism” and the other is “the tragic execution of the utopian dream.” Which city is the utopia and which is the dystopia is, however, a false dichotomy that will be deconstructed.


Figure [i]: Plan Voisin: The red cross-shaped buildings were 60-story office towers for elite administrators of the French state. The smaller red-shaped buildings set on the blue background were three to five story apartments for workers. A road network designed for different speeds of traffic cuts through the new city, as if to form the linear spine holding urban life together.


Plan Voisin

An artist turned architect made a startling proposal in 1925 to demolish all of central Paris. The entire two-thousand-year old city between the Arc de Triomphe to the west and the Bastille to the east was to be cleared of buildings and rebuilt with 28 concrete and glass towers of 60 floors each. From their towers, workers would survey Paris rebuilt as a park. They would, to quote from the artist’s description of his project, “behold a dense mass of trees swaying beneath them. The stillness is absolute.”[4] Surrounding these towers, elevated highways stitched the city together in bands of concrete and asphalt. At the new city center, two highways converged at a vast subterranean shopping mall and transportation center with airport above. In no uncertain terms, he described his proposal’s sublime beauty: “When night intervenes the passage of cars along the highway traces luminous traces that are like the tails of meteors flashing across the summer heavens.”[5]
No details were provided for the subways, sewers, or water supply critical for the 400,000 residents living in this rebuilt Paris. No specific plans were made for the churches, libraries, theaters, or civic gathering spaces needed to support the cultural life of Paris either. This was an artist who, after all, fashioned himself an engineer and scientist but whose formal training extended little further than engraving watches in a Swiss village. This was an artist who looked down on trained architects and city planners, called for all professors at the École des Beaux-Arts to resign, and thought that Rome was “all the horrors”[6] and had built no worthwhile architecture in the four hundred years since Michelangelo’s death. “Architects,” he wrote, “live within the narrow confines of what they learned in school, in ignorance of the new rules of building, and they readily let their conceptions stop at kissing doves.”[7]
The artist was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known by his nom de guerre as Le Corbusier. The project was called the Plan Voisin, which evolved into his proposal for the so-called Radiant City of the future. The public backlash against the Plan Voisin was swift and immediate. Alongside Albert Speer’s plan for rebuilding Berlin as Hitler’s world capital Germania, the Voisin Plan is among the most ambitious and well-known un-built proposals for a European capital city.
In the Athens Charter of 1933, Le Corbusier again described the ideal city in a list of proposals: Urban life and streets should be designed around the car. Urban centers should be depopulated of buildings, railroads, and industries for building parks, towers, and segregated roads with different speeds of cars. Urban forms should be shaped by an elite group of technicians, scientists, and planners. Most of all, cities should be systematized and reorganized around motor vehicles to reflect the new political, social, and economic structure of modern society. Le Corbusier hoped the transformation of urban life would become a vehicle for the larger transformation of society. As Le Corbusier concludes in words reminiscent of socialism: “Private interests should be subordinated to the interests of the community.”[8] Who defines the “interests of the community” is a question Le Corbusier leaves unanswered – the people themselves or the technocrats who know best?
Le Corbusier’s plan was designed for the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong political climate. The taciturn French state in the 1930s lacked the political will and motivation to follow through with so controversial a plan. Le Corbusier, in turn, interpreted resistance to his proposals as justification for political change. Elections and the messy business of democracy produced a negotiated urbanism of private vs. public that balanced the rights of individual property owners with slum clearance projects, highways, and new parks that represented the public good. What Le Corbusier needed in the 1930s was a central state that could overrule the interests of property owners and urban residents to plough through a new vision of urban life: his vision. In frustration at the challenges of his own career and with the failure of the French state to resist German invasion in 1940, Le Corbusier turned to the anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, and pro-Nazi Vichy state for employment. If democracy could not realize his urban visions, then perhaps other systems could. It was Hitler, after all, who had the power to build motorways and ambitious public works projects for the German people, and it was Le Corbusier who was often accused in the 1920s of building in a style too “Germanic.”[9] However, the Vichy made no attempts to ever follow through with Le Corbusier’s idea, and so his proposals for Paris remain paper architecture. Le Corbusier’s modernism was compromised by his tendency to align with any political party and system that promised to execute his urban visions.


Figure [ii]: Ceaușescu’s plans for Bucharest overlaid over the bulldozed urban fabric. The areas in gray were cleared of buildings to erect the new buildings in black. The Victory of Socialism Boulevard slices through the new city. The building at left is the Palace of the Parliament, the heaviest building in the world that consumes as much electricity, light, and heat as a medium-sized city.



The irony is that visions of total urban demolition and reconstruction came closest in the communist states that the Vichy and Nazis were allied against. Granted, public housing projects in places like New York City or the Pruitt-Igoe houses of St. Louis have all the attributes of Le Corbusier’s urbanism: car-centric urban superblocks and cruciform shaped towers set in landscaped parks. But the urban renewal projects of Western European and American cities still represent a negotiated urbanism of new vs. old, preservation vs. replacement. No American city was ever demolished in its entirety for a tabula rasa urbanism, although the scale of destruction in places like Detroit comes close.
Instead, the wholesale destruction of cities in post-WWII Eastern Europe was an opportunity to rebuild cities on fresh ideological lines. Most of Warsaw, Moscow, East Berlin, Dresden, Belgrade, and Bucharest were destroyed first during WWII and then by the Soviets who erased much remaining architecture associated with monarchy and the bourgeoisie. In Warsaw, for instance, medieval buildings were deemed as symbolic of Polish identity and were therefore meticulously restored. Warsaw’s nineteenth-century bourgeois apartment blocks in the image of Paris were more likely demolished, even if they had survived the war intact. In both Eastern and Western Europe, the rebuilding of cities was part of an effort to write urban forms in service of postwar society.[10] In western cities like Rotterdam, for instance, the medieval city of canals was entirely bombed in WWII and rebuilt around the car and highway as primary modes of transport. As George Orwell writes: “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.”[11]
Bucharest’s construction from 1977 to 1989 stands out for the degree to which the demolished and rebuilt city reflects the egomania and aesthetic tastes of an all-powerful master builder: Nicolae Ceaușescu, dictator of Romania from 1967 until his 1989 show trial and execution on allegations of genocide. Ceaușescu was no Le Corbusier and never encountered Le Corbusier’s work during his no-more than middle school education that ended at age eleven. Le Corbusier’s exposure to Romania was also brief, amounting to more than a few sketchbook pages from his extensive European tours. But the irony is that despite Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu knowing nothing of each other, the urban plans they produced overlap in an unconscious ways: Le Corbusier the architect who wanted to become a dictator vs. Ceaușescu the dictator who wanted to become an architect. Utopia and dystopia claim to have nothing in common but, on closer looking, are distorted fun house mirrors of each other.
Having introduced the two plans and their ambitions, this essay will break the comparison of urban forms into three parts. Firstly, the nineteenth-century urban forms of Paris and Bucharest will be compared. Secondly, the proposals in both places to build linear cities will be introduced. The failure of both linear cities to respond to and fit into the existing and ancient urban fabric will be then described. Thirdly, both urban forms will be analyzed as political statements about their respective societies.


Figure [iii]: Les Halles, the central marketplace of Paris, was a metal-framed building with walls of glass resembling a greenhouse. Built in the 1850s in the image of London’s Crystal Palace, the site of Les Halles would have stood at the geographic center of Le Corbusier’s plan and was therefore proposed for demolition. Parisians consider the 1970s demolition of Les Halles an architectural and cultural loss.

Figure [iv]: The Bucharest marketplace near present-day Piața Unirii was a metal-framed building with walls of glass in the image of Les Halles. It, too, was demolished for Ceaușescu’s urban renewal plans. The distant construction cranes are assembling the new city. The French connection is no coincidence. Engineers like Gustave Eiffel built bridges and hotels in Romania, while the Eiffel Tower’s iron and steel are sourced from Romanian mines.


1. Nineteenth-century city

Traditional urban forms are centered on the street. For centuries, the streets of European cities developed in piecemeal fashion, gradually filling out the open land in a chaotic jumble of streets. Buildings rose straight up at the property line with the street, thereby producing a dense and vibrant urban culture of narrow streets. With buildings so close to the street, and with windows looking down onto the street, public space became an outdoor room of sorts. Surrounded by buildings and activity on all sides, the street was open to all. But with the coming of the modern age, the narrow streets of European cities became crowded with the noise and fumes of traffic. The public street that belonged to all social classes was now privatized for car owners. This produced what Le Corbusier condemned as the corridor street. As he writes: “Il faut tuer la rue-corridor” (We have to kill the corridor street).[12]
The boulevard was the nineteenth-century response to perceived problems with the corridor street. Haussmann carved dozens of straight, wide, and tree-lined boulevards through the narrow alleys, winding streets, and crowded neighborhoods of medieval Paris. Haussmann’s projects brought the appearance of medieval Paris into the nineteenth century, transforming the old architecture of Paris into a modern capital of the French nation and colonial empire. Miles of boulevards had new tunnels beneath for the city’s water supply, sewers, and subways. Along these streets there also rose new apartment buildings of uniform materials, floor heights, and neoclassical architectural style.
Rather than a contrast to the corridor street, the boulevard is an extension and improvement on earlier streets perceived as dangerous and crowded. Haussmann’s boulevards were carved through Paris to ease the movement of people and delivery of city services. At the same time, boulevards produced the urban culture of the café, department store, park, and the pedestrian (also known as the flâneur). The boulevard is a public place to see and be seen. In equal parts, the boulevard and traffic circle frame views of defining symbols of urban culture, such as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Arcul de Triumf it inspired in Bucharest, both of which are limestone arches celebrating military victories and set in traffic circles. In line with this military theme, the boulevard can also be read as an attempt to rationalize urban growth and to control the city’s population. Boulevards built after the 1871 socialist uprising known as the Paris Commune were allegedly sliced through neighborhoods where political dissidents lived, so as to facilitate armies marching into the city on the broad, flat, and long expanse of the new streets. In theory, a barricade is harder to erect on a boulevard than on a corridor street.
The nineteenth-century boulevards inserted into the street network of Bucharest were never as extensive as those in Paris. Nonetheless, the map above does show two French-style boulevards lined with apartment buildings. One street travelling north to south called B​oulevard​ Ion C. Brătianu and the other east to west called B​oulevard​ Regina Elisabeta intersect at the city center (top center of map). Occasionally, other Bucharest streets radiate from traffic circles in the image of Paris. Along many of Bucharest’s old city streets there rise limestone and stucco apartment buildings in the French Second Empire style. The varying floor height, varying amount of ornament on each floor, and mansard roofs on Bucharest’s nineteenth-century buildings all express externally the class divisions of upstairs vs. downstairs and masters vs. servants these buildings contained internally.
The Second World War destroyed large swaths of Bucharest, while Paris was spared despite Hitler’s orders to bomb the city and leave it “as a field of ruins.”[13] As the Soviets swept through Bucharest in the closing months of WWII, they installed communists in power and began the process of destroying symbols and confiscating property linked to the nineteenth-century monarchy and French-speaking bourgeoisie that governed Romanian society. Walking through Bucharest, the change in political system is imprinted on changes in architectural style. In parts of the bombed out city center, Parisian style apartment buildings stand side by side with postwar socialist towers. The new towers lack ornament and have uniform floor heights and window sizes, as if communicating outside the equality of residents inside. The architectural style of Bucharest changed from the ornament, curves, and craftsmanship of the Art Nouveau to the pre-fabricated concrete geometry of new buildings, as if symbolizing Romania’s transition from the Western European to Soviet sphere of influence, and from nineteenth-century romanticism to twentieth-century modernism.
However, what Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu proposed for Paris in the 1920s and Bucharest in the 1980s were above and beyond ambitious than the boulevards and apartment houses of the nineteenth century. To be fair, both saw themselves as following and expanding on the earlier tradition of Haussmann. Yet the point was not to become Haussmann or to interpret the urban fabric through new buildings. Rather, the point was to outdo and to overwrite all that had come before. Builders and planners like Haussmann had only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, was to change it.[14]


2. Linear City

Le Corbusier’s demolition proposals for Paris re-focused the new city around the highway. All buildings were pulled back from the street and surrounded by gardens. Buildings turned away from the street, and by extension society turned away from the street as the organizing principle of urban life. Le Corbusier expands in his typo-rife list of recommendations that condemn traditional urban forms:


51. The existing network of urban communications has arisen from an agglomeration of the aids [sic] roads of major traffic routes. In Europe these major routes date back well into the middle ages [sic], sometimes even into antiquity.
52. Devised for the use of pedestrians and horse drawn vehicles, they are inadequate for today’s mechanized transportation.
53. These inappropriate street dimensions prevent the effective use of mechanized vehicles at speeds corresponding to urban pressure.
54. Distances between crossroads are too infrequent.
55. Street widths are insufficient. Their widening is difficult and often ineffectual.
56. Faced by the needs of high speed [sic] vehicles, present the apparently irrational street pattern lacks efficiency and flexibility, differentiation and order [sic].
57. Relics of a former pompous magnificence designed for special monumental effects often complicate traffic circulation.[15]
The new superhighway that cut straight through Paris in no way corresponded to the existing street system and was opposed to traditional urban forms centered on the sidewalk and street. Le Corbusier insisted that streets were only for cars. As he writes: “the alignment of housing along main traffic routes should be forbidden.”[16] The Plan Voisin contrasts with traditional corridor streets and boulevards. The public and multipurpose functions that the street once served – as traffic artery, as sidewalk, as park, as play space, and as framing device for “relics of a former pompous magnificence” like the Arc de Triomphe – have all been segregated in the Plan Voisin to different parts of the city. One area is for industry, another for wealthy, another for parks, another for play, and still another for the working classes. The main thing that links these disparate parts together is the linear form of the highways, on which these different elements of urban life are strung together like beads on a necklace.
Ceaușescu also saw urban life as an unwieldy force to control and to regulate. Instead of the superhighway Le Corbusier proposed for Paris, Ceaușescu desired a French-style avenue called the Victory of Socialism Boulevard that was a few meters wider and a few meters longer than the Champs-Élysées. Unlike the real Champs-Élysées that became a fashionable open space and shopping street, the Victory of Socialism Boulevard had no luxury shops to speak of along its length. Bucharest residents saw their boulevard in an unfashionable light. As if expressing the boulevard’s anti-urban quality on land that displaced thousands of people overnight, residents renamed it the Victory over Bucharest Boulevard. The nickname expresses discomfort with the boulevard’s vast scale, wide streets, apartment superblocks, and dimensions that are out of place with the rest of Bucharest’s granular urban fabric. Rather than enhancing urban life, the boulevard’s scale could provide a backdrop for military parades of soldiers and tanks, that is, a different kind of “mechanized transportation” from what Le Corbusier described.[17]
Ceaușescu was himself uncomfortable with the culture, business, and unpredictable quality of urban culture. There is in Ceaușescu’s vision of Bucharest a desire to systematize and control the greatest sources of discontent and the middle class intellectuals who inhabited the area of the city he demolished. Le Corbusier desired and called for all scholars in the École des Beaux-Arts to resign, but he had no power to fire them.[18] Ceaușescu did have that power, and his rule was marked by the arrest, torture, imprisonment, or firing of any person who objected to his demolition of Bucharest and cult of personality.
Ironically, French monarchism is the cultural reference behind socialist Bucharest’s rebuilding. The Champs-Élysées terminated at a public square called the Place de la Concorde, beyond which was the palace of the Louvre set in the landscaped Jardins des Tuileries. Bucharest’s Victory of Socialism Boulevard ended at a vast public square of dozens of acres, in which over a million Romanians could assemble before the nation’s capital building, called the People’s House. From his viewing stand at a balcony in the exact center of the building’s facade, Ceaușescu hoped to view the assembled crowds and to survey the city down the length of his boulevard. The balcony and chambers behind the balcony are modeled after rooms in Versailles and the Opéra Garnier. They are the point of convergence around which the entire city plan and state revolves; all is visible from the center. The rhetoric and place names speak of socialism, but the visual imagery is of Louis XIV, the Sun King of the City of Lights and the descendant of the Capetian kings. Ceaușescu, too, took after the image of nobility through the royal scepter he brought with him and his chosen honorific titles: “genius of the Carpathians, “source of our light,” and “treasure of wisdom and charisma.”[19] Incidentally, both Ceaușescu and Louis XIV were short men with double chins and chose in later life to mask their age through requiring all official portraits to show them in the strength of virile youth. In media appearances, Ceaușescu was quick to delete any instances of his lifelong stutter appearing on camera. This is not so much to say that Ceaușescu saw himself as Louis XIV as much as to imply that external opulence of the urban form compensates for deeper insecurities. That the People’s House was never finished and is now empty of people and activities, a fitting metaphor for the failed Romanian state.
In reorienting the city around new visual axes and reorienting society around new cultural institutions, both plans marginalized the traditional centers of urban culture. The area cleared for Ceaușescu’s Bucharest consisted of churches, monasteries, schools, and the range of all businesses and housing types for different social classes. The new city he built was monolithic in land use and function: a boulevard lined with identical housing blocks and government ministries set in geometrically landscaped open areas. The largest of these open areas was two hundred acres of flat and roughly landscaped open space that surrounded the People’s House, land that was once home to thousands but now served only to elevate and frame the center of power in splendid isolation. Monuments in Ceaușescu’s Bucharest are like pieces in a museum display case, surrounded by empty space and set in isolation to be viewed from all sides.
For all the demolition and displacement of thousands of people his project would have involved, Le Corbusier described his plans as, in fact, enhancing the urban form by preserving a select few monuments of old Paris. The Garnier Opera House, Palais Royale, National Library, National Archives, Élysée Palace, The Louvre, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Place Vendôme and a handful of Gothic churches like the Church of Saint Augustine and Church of Saint Laurence were saved. In old Paris, these monuments were part of the urban fabric and of the neighborhoods that surrounded them, visual and cultural focal points for urban life. In Le Corbusier’s proposal, these monuments sat in isolation and were cleared of all surrounding buildings, which in so doing saved individual buildings but destroyed the neighborhoods and urban culture that produced those buildings. Driving down the highway through the new linear city, the monuments and churches of old Paris would have been visible on either side of the road. Set back from the street, they would have risen in splendid isolation like large road signs, each stripped of all deeper meaning and reading only “I am a monument.”[20] In the Plan Voisin, churches have become like trailer homes that can be rolled away and placed anywhere.
Bucharest’s Orthodox churches and institutions were the centers of urban life; their spires were the symbols of tradition in the urban skyline. But religion had no place in Ceaușescu’s vision of a socialist and atheist society. For instance, under the pretext that the 1977 earthquake had damaged landmarks and made preservation impossible, Ceaușescu proceeded by every means possible to weaken and dismantle history. Văcărești Monastery, built 1716-22, was the largest monastery in Romania, once home of the largest library in Southeastern Europe, and ornamented with hundreds of frescoes and stone carvings. While preservationists were in talks to save the monastery, Ceaușescu proceeded under cover of darkness and with no public records to strip out the windows, demolish the steeples, and later still to use the building as a stage set for a WWII reenactment film with live munitions. Ironically, WWII did not destroy the monastery and left Bucharest’s urban form intact, but Romanian soldiers dressed as German soldiers destroyed their own city decades later. This rendered discussions to save the building a mute point before historians could even develop plans. Plans to build an amusement park here never materialized, and the land at the former monastery remains a barren field adjacent to the People’s House.[21]


Figure [v]: Weighing 9,000 tons, the Mihai Voda Orthodox Church and its standalone tower were rolled 289 meters.


Figure [vi]: Church of Saint John the New 1986,

near present-day Piața Unirii

Figure [vii]: And again today, now wedged between two Soviet-era buildings that hide and belittle the religious architecture


At least eighteen other churches and monasteries were destroyed under armed military guard, but a few were saved. With local tourists and onlookers from the United Nations, a dozen churches weighing thousands of tons were jacked up and rolled away on railroad tracks to new locations out of the way of the new boulevards’ paths. In their new locations, taller and Soviet-era buildings encircled the churches, hiding visibility of the old architecture from the main streets. Like Le Corbusier’s proposals for Paris, the parts of old Bucharest that were salvaged became isolated monuments decontextualized of the neighborhoods and streets that once gave them meaning.
In an ironic twist of fate, Bucharest is now building the People’s Salvation Cathedral. Situated next to the detested People’s House, it is the world’s largest Orthodox church. The new church will be taller than the People’s House in hopes to reframe the focal point of Bucharest’s skyline. Other proposals included erecting a wall of capitalist skyscrapers around the People’s House so as to block all views of it, as if inverting against Ceaușescu the very methods he employed against the church and private property owners. Architecture is a response to trauma. The urban landscape again becomes a political landscape for competing ideologies.[22]
The demolition and dislocation of Bucharest’s stone churches is an uncomfortable comment on the instability of culture. Churches, hospitals, and grand public buildings are inter-generational monuments that are supposed to outlive us and provide aesthetic vehicles for us to communicate with history. When they are demolished, the experiences of nearby urban residents and their connections with history are severed. The plans in both Paris and Bucharest to demolish this history reveals how deep the efforts of Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu were to sever society from past ways of thought and to rebuild society from the ground up. That the new city should coexist with the old churches and monuments was not enough; history must be erased for the new society. The urban form becomes a political statement, in which case the wanton destruction of history is justified on both economic and ideological grounds.


3. Urban form as political statement

National leaders have long realized the importance of buildings as symbols of larger political projects.
Inspired by French principles of urban planning, Washington D.C. was measured out in 1791 on the uninhabited, desolate, and swampy banks of the Potomac River. The street network is as ambitious as Paris, but it was for a young nation with population four million. The plan symbolized the imperial ambitions of young America to settle the west and conquer nature. More than a century of urban growth and new construction would be required for these ambitions to become reality.
Inspired by the linear city of the Plan Voisin, Brasília was laid out in 1960 on Brazil’s vast unsettled interior of dry and grassy plains. Streets were planned as if to form a pictogram from the air of a bird in flight (or is it an airplane, or some modern rendition of a Mesoamerican city?). Brasília’s urban form was not designed for pedestrians, was rich in political symbolism, oriented around the “mechanized transportation” of the car, and symbolized the aspirations of the new government to colonize the vast nation’s interior.[23]
Canberra in Australia, Naypyitaw in Myanmar, New Delhi in India, Abuja in Nigeria, Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, Ankara in Turkey, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast are all political projects like Washington D.C. and Brasília, capital cities plotted out of thin air onto unsettled regions. The urban form was recognized as an active and necessary agent to bring about a new society. The construction of all these new capitals was justified on economic grounds (the existing capital city was too small or crowded for growth), political grounds (the new capital was better located near the geographic center of the country), and ideological grounds (the new capital would symbolize a reorientation in national values). In other words, the urban form of capital cities is aspirational and transformational, aiming to use urban planning to reshape public discourse.[24]
Both Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu tied an architectural and planning project to the larger social project of reorganizing society. Yet what sets their projects apart from the traditional urban form of capital cities is that they proposed to build in the city center, right in the middle of urban life. All the other cities mentioned were either built on undeveloped land, or they were new additions at the edge of existing cities. For instance, the plan of New Delhi was created by the British Empire in the 1910s through 30s with hopes to solidify colonial rule over India. New Delhi’s urban plan was as ambitious and symbolically rich as proposals for Paris and Bucharest, but it was built at the city edge of Old Delhi, effectively co-existing with the old city as an alternative to traditional urban forms. What Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu advocated through their architectural projects was a larger political project bordering on revolution. It was not enough that new society should inhabit new buildings; it should replace all previous urban forms that had existed for millennia. New ways of life and new means of production are needed in utopian society, and these goals require revolution against traditional urban forms.
The choice of capital city is strategic because it would provide a model for the rest of the country. Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris inspired copycat projects in satellite cities like Lyon and Marseilles, as well as colonial capitals like Rabat in Morocco, Algiers in Algeria, and Tunis in Tunisia. Influence flows from centers of culture and power, along with new forms of art and architecture. The hope in both Paris and Bucharest was that, by rebuilding the capital city, the path for the rest of the country would become clear in an instant.
France was an undisputed colonial power in the nineteenth century, and Paris was the center of empire. The urban forms and boulevards of this capital city were as much practical projects for the movement of traffic and people as political projects to frame the monuments and institutions of French culture and governance. Paris is an imperial city with boulevards designed to frame views of, say, the Arc de Triomphe (a political symbol), the Madeleine (a religious symbol), the Gare de l’Est (a technology symbol), the Garnier Opera House (a cultural symbol), and the Louvre (a royal palace). Paris’ urban form communicates who is in charge. In this way, Le Corbusier’s project would have attempted to bring Paris into the twentieth century, as if to update the urban form so as to remain a relevant symbol of France’s modernity. By the 1930, Hausmann’s boulevards designed for the pedestrian and carriage would have symbolized an older political order and system. Le Corbusier would have replaced these older symbols with new symbols that represented the technocrat elite he hoped would govern French society.
By contrast, Romania was never a global power, but it had all the ambitions to reshape itself as one. Romania existed during the Cold War as a Soviet satellite state, within the Russian sphere of influence but never directly controlled by Moscow. Despite its Slavic neighbors, Romania looked to Western Europe to find, for instance, their first king from Germany and their national architecture with French Art Nouveau influences. Later, Ceaușescu had global ambitions through foreign aid to Africa and close relations with Iran, the United States, and Britain. Despite Ceaușescu’s numerous flaws, foreign policy was seen as one of his regime’s genuine strengths. At the same time, he banned all abortions and contraceptives so as to force population growth through unwanted pregnancies, causing 500,000 children abandoned in Romanian orphanages. Rebuilding Bucharest was part of this larger political project. Bucharest’s urban form copies the model of existing imperial powers, but it is above and beyond ambitious anything Romania would need. Seventy percent of the rooms in the People’s House remain empty in anticipation of a Romanian state with millions more people that never came to be. Bucharest’s urban form must be read as a political project well beyond in size and scale anything that the city needed. France, by contrast, has a capital city whose architectural size and ambitions align with the global reputation and power of the French nation.
Central to imperial and global ambitions is the desire to standardize and systematize language, arts, and communication so as to govern a large area that has a unified culture. Socialist Realism was itself a standardized aesthetic within the communist world. Dozens of Soviet-inspired skyscrapers for government ministries as far-ranging as the Sino-Soviet Friendship Building in Shanghai, the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, the Seven Sisters in Moscow, the Latvian Academy of Sciences, and the House of the Free Press in Bucharest are all variations on the same architectural tower type with silhouettes like wedding cakes. Ceaușescu did not create an international style of architecture that Romania exported abroad, but what he did promote in the last years of his rule was what he called systematization. This was a program to demolish every city and village in Romania. Seven to eight thousand villages were declared redundant, bulldozed, and their occupants moved to new pre-fabricated apartment towers in concrete.[25] City centers were demolished and rebuilt as concrete shopping malls. Later, when food and funding ran out during Romania’s economic crisis of the1980s, citizens renamed the unfinished shells of these urban shopping centers as “hunger circuses.” Estimates range, but by 1989, 85 to 90% of Romania’s 29 largest towns were razed and rebuilt, with an additional 37 towns partially demolished. Government plans called for 90% of all pre-WWII buildings to be demolished for Soviet-style apartment blocks. The aim was to produce a homogenized built environment by the year 2000, the better to govern an obedient people.[26]
Le Corbusier also believed in standardizing the world. He proposed a new international measurement system called the modulor, whose basic unit was the height and proportions of the human body, through which all other things in the world were measured with respect to. The International Style for buildings that Le Corbusier promoted, as well as the automobiles that would service Le Corbusier’s modern city, have no cultural boundaries. His own career marks him as a French architect, but he was not restricted to France. The technologies of globalism are universal, consistent, and not adapted to local conditions. The skyscrapers that the World Trade Organization, Exxon, and the Trump Organization erect in cities around the world are near identical architectural forms, and symbolize the same globalist values in different cultural contexts. In other words, the popularity of McDonald’s is that customers get the same thing wherever they go, and that consistency is key to both the company (which saves money through economies of scale) and the consumer (who knows what to expect). Our society does not measure things with Le Corbusier’s modulor, but the increasing standardization of building components from places like Home Depot is very much in the same vein of creating a house that acts like a car. Parts can be swapped out interchangeably. If houses are “machines for living” and cars are machines for movement, then by Le Corbusier’s logic, cities are machines for social engineering and require new urban forms that make social engineering possible.


The comparison of Paris and Bucharest should not be reduced to a simple morality tale of urban planning gone wrong. Bucharest might be an unconscious and twisted realization of megalomaniacal proposals like the Plan Voisin. The aesthetic similarities between Paris and Bucharest underscore the comparison of dream and reality, source and inspiration. However, to attribute the failure of Le Corbusier’s plans to the strength of private property and capitalism to resister urban renewal and the iron fist of the state is too simplistic.
Le Corbusier saw his plans as operating within the framework of market-driven and technocratic capitalism, not socialism. The Voisin Plan was for a future French society governed by syndicalism, a political system that glorified not a leader but the rational organization of modern life and its capacity for a liberating productivity. Hence, the plan tried to imagine what a beautifully organized modern city would look like. Like Haussmann’s urban renewal projects that paid for themselves, Le Corbusier hoped his city would be self-financing. The initial outlay of capital to acquire and demolish medieval streets for modern boulevards was paid for by the increased property values of buildings erected along these boulevards. Less discussed in Haussmann’s Paris is the extent to which urban renewal projects in the urban core displaced the urban poor to city edges, creating a circle of elites in the city center surrounded by less desirable suburbs. Many of those displaced in Bucharest were also moved to unfinished and desolate housing towers at the city edge. Like Haussmann, Le Corbusier hoped that corporations would pay for his rebuilding of Paris and would reap the rewards. This did not happen; thousands of people were never displaced for urban renewal. However, the more recent process of gentrification has displaced many of the people and features from the central city that Le Corbusier would have found most objectionable about urban life: buildings without plumbing and elevators, crowded apartments, the smoke and noise of steam engines, and factories pressed up against residential areas. Although planners did not displace the population of central Paris, market forces remade the central city in the image of global capitalism and, in so doing, displaced the social classes that had lived there for centuries. Central Paris has the most AirBnB rentals of any city in the world, and the company is accused of giving apartments to the jet-setting elite that would otherwise go to actual residents. The recurring civil unrest in Paris is concentrated in the modernist “towers in the park” that surround the historic urban core, and which ironically Le Corbusier advocated for as the healthier alternative to traditional urban forms in the city center. The minorities and immigrants living here feel removed from their place of work, must commute to the city center, and are alienated from French society. Le Corbusier wanted to rebuild central Paris. His plans failed, but in a twisted sense his image of the city took root across the globe. The pencil-thin new skyscrapers of New York, London, and dozens of other cities have become playgrounds for the global super-rich. The club of corporate technocrats holds the real power in capitalist society, and they are supported by a precarious underclass of housekeepers, security guards, and gig workers. Like the syndicalists a century ago, tech leaders today promise that technology and the internet will liberate productivity.
The Romanian Revolution of 1989 toppled Ceaușescu’s dictatorship and left his plans for Bucharest in a state of partial completion. The new capitalism had little desire to finish these plans because of the communist oppression they symbolized to the Romanian people. At the same time, a more nuanced assessment would be that Ceaușescu’s Romania symbolized not communism but, rather, the worst excesses of crony capitalism. In later years, Ceaușescu was buried in his own cult of personality, world of incalculable wealth, assets hidden in foreign bank accounts, and appointments of friends and family in high places. The Romanian people joked that everyone in Ceaușescu’s inner circle had nepotism to go around that the country had “Socialism in One Family.” As the 1980s brought economic hardship to Romania, and as the 1979 Iranian Revolution cut off oil supplies central to Romania’s economy, Ceaușescu cracked down hard through surveillance, oppression, and torture on unions, strikes, and workers demanding higher wages. The crisis was worsened by his decision to pay off the country’s foreign creditors and foreign debt through austerity measures and rollbacks in public services like health, education, and infrastructure. When workers dared to strike, Ceaușescu called in the military. No surprise then that one of the crowning moments of Ceaușescu’s career was a state visit to meet Margaret Thatcher and the British royal family, where he, too, was treated like royalty in exchange for signing lucrative trade agreements. Among Soviet Bloc countries, Bucharest retained the most independence from Moscow and the “most favored nation” trading status with the United States. Presidents like Nixon and later Reagan were hesitant to condemn Ceaușescu’s excesses and destruction of cultural heritage because they perceived Ceaușescu as a possible ally against the Soviet Union. Was the rebuilding of Bucharest in the image of socialism, or was it in the darker image of a technocratic oligarchy? At what point does Haussmann’s vision of Paris become megalomania?
The entry of Romania into the European Union has resolved some instability like food shortages and lack of consumer goods, but globalization has introduced new instabilities to Eastern Europe. Since the collapse of communism, skilled and young workers have left Romania and other Eastern European countries. From places like the Gara de Nord, Bucharest’s main rail station, millions of migrant workers now stream to Western Europe, where a restaurant worker abroad can make as much as a doctor at home. In places like the Gare du Nord, Paris’s main rail station and the busiest in Europe, ethnic groups like the Roma congregate and struggle on through begging and petty theft. As English-language rock music plays on local radio stations, Romania again looks beyond its borders for wealth and cultural influences.
The initial statement that Paris is “the premonition of totalitarianism” and Bucharest is “the tragic execution of the utopian dream” does not capture the full picture. In both cities, the rhetoric of Le Corbusier and Ceaușescu presented the pre-existing urban form as formless, empty, chaotic, and therefore needing the planner’s light from above. The city of darkness justified creating the city of lights. In both cities, the creation of the city of lights produced a new darkness in the cultures that were lost, the people that were displaced, and the oppressive symbols of absolute power embedded in new urban forms. Which is the city of dark and which is the city of lights becomes ambiguous on closer examination. The two leaders were different in their approaches, intentions, and images of the ideal city, but there are shared and darker underlying similarities.
The dichotomies of Paris and Bucharest, capitalism and communism, modernist and postmodernist architecture, utopia and dystopia start to fall apart. Bucharest’s urban form employs modern technologies but is built in a visual style that references monarchy and antiquity. In what era and ideological framework does this place Bucharest? Is Paris the utopian version of dystopian Bucharest? And, if Paris is a utopia, for whom is it a utopia? How could Ceaușescu’s Victory of Socialism Boulevard, one of the worst failures of city planning, be inspired by Haussmann’s boulevards that, we are told, get planning and public space right? Is the unhinged force of capitalism or the oppression of Soviet Socialism more responsible for destroying traditional urban forms?
Analysis of Paris and Bucharest raises larger and more fundamental questions about the feasibility of realizing utopia through architecture and social engineering alone. Le Corbusier’s vision for Paris emerged in the 1920s at a time when society had an unquestioning faith in progress and optimism in the technologies of airplanes, railroads, and science to advance humanity. Le Corbusier’s architecture was shaped around and celebrated the emerging technologies of glass, steel, concrete, and the automobile. Technology, Le Corbusier believed, must be incorporated into architecture and used in service of building a new society, a new Garden of Eden. Yet the horrors of World War transformed the technologies of modernity, like airplanes, chemical labs, and freight railroads, into agents of humanity’s own self-destruction and genocide. By the late twentieth century, the world had become skeptical of technology’s promise of progress and of architects’ promise that urban surgery to cities could further the project of democracy. Utopian projects Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, Le Corbusier’s Radiant City, and Ceaușescu’s Bucharest appear outdated to modern eyes.
In this context, Ceaușescu’s Bucharest is a cultural outlier, a project completed in the 1970s and 80s at a time when most other planners had turned away from ambitious urban renewal projects. In the 1970s and 80s, American cities were abandoning the “towers in the park” and massive public housing projects in favor of improving urban neighborhoods through conservation, instead of demolition. At the same time, old Bucharest was being demolished and reshaped in accordance with the same urban planning principles that the planning profession had begun resisting in other countries. Before the wrecking balls and demolition crews had even begun their work, Bucharest had become yesterday’s city of tomorrow, a project completed in the 1980s that looked back to the 1880s. And yet, in the thirty years since the fall of communism, Bucharest’s wide boulevards and empty fields are still haunted by yesterday’s vision. City planners have yet to identify land uses for hundreds of acres that Ceaușescu cleared of buildings but never developed. Past, present, and future all blur together in the urban form.
What is today’s vision of tomorrow, not just for specific cities and buildings but also for society as a whole? And if the so-called “creative class” of planners and intellectuals that have governed society since the fall of communism are unable to offer alternatives for the utopian city of the future, will society resurrect failed visions of urban renewal in the hope of making things great again, whatever “great” means?[27] Recent opinion polls indicate that if Ceaușescu were alive today and were to run for president, over 50% of Romanians would vote for him.[28] As the world sees a resurgence of nationalism, as China grows as a world power, and as right wing government take power in democracies around the world, there is still hope for Le Corbusier’s visions of the future.


Figure [viii]: Le Corbusier waved his hand above his urban renewal plans for Paris and declared: “The advent of the machine age has caused immense disturbances to man’s habits, place of dwelling and type of work […] Chaos has entered into the cities.”[29] This chaos must be solved through new ways of living that use machines to restore harmony between man and nature.

Figure [ix]: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. – Opening lines of Genesis[30]



I am grateful to Robert Fishman, the advisor in my architecture PhD program, for his research on Le Corbusier and utopian urban forms that inspired this essay. I am grateful to my parents and pet dog whose companionship supported my research and writing during a challenging pandemic.
In a more twisted sense, I am grateful to the local universities and institutions in my native Newark, New Jersey. Their urban renewal actions from the 1950s to present day that demolished hundreds of historic buildings and dislocated thousands of people inspired me to consider the consequences of tabula rasa urban planning. More than an isolated instance of misguided urban renewal in a single American city, the demolition of traditional urban forms in the name of modernism has happened across the United States and world. Reading about utopian projects to build the ideal city inspired me to situate my subjective individual experiences in the larger history of architecture.



Fraser, Valerie. “Brasília.” In Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America, 1930-1960. Verso: New York, 2000. 212-72.

Minkenberg, Michael. Power and Architecture: The Construction of Capitals and the Politics of Space. New York: Berghahn Books, 2014.

Rouvillois, Frédéric. “Utopia and Totalitarianism.” In Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World. New York City: New York Public Library, 2000. 316-32.

Scott Brown, Denise; Robert Venturi; and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas Book. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972.



Fishman, Robert. Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

–––––. Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier. Boston: MIT Press, 1982.

Le Corbusier. “Charter of Athens.” The Getty Conservation Institute. 1933.

–––––. “Plan Voisin, Paris, France, 1925 (Extract from Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Oeuvre complète, volume 1, 1910-1929).” Fondation Le Corbusier. April 29, 2021.

––––– and Jean-Louis Cohen (introduction). Toward an Architecture. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007.

“Reflecting on the concepts of streets,” Urban kchoze, December 18, 2014.



Barris, Roann. “Contested Mythologies: The Architectural Deconstruction of a Totalitarian Culture.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 54, no. 4 (2001): 229-37.

Danta, Darrick. “Ceaușescu’s Bucharest.” Geographical Review 83, no. 2 (1993): 170-82. doi:10.2307/215255.

Cavalcanti, Maria de Betania. “Totalitarian States and Their Influence on City Form: The Case of Bucharest: Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 9, no. 4 (1992): 275-86.

Dumitru, Alexandru. “Destroyed Bucharest.” Bucharestian.

Gheorghe Apostol, Alexandru Birladeanu, Silviu Brucan, Corneliu Manescu, William Pfaff, Constantin Pirvulescu, “Letter of the Six, March 1989,” Making the History of 1989, Item #698,

Gillette, Robert. “Ceaușescu Getting Rid of Inefficient Small Villages.” Los Angeles Times. December 17, 1985.

Giurescu, Dinu C. The Razing of Romania’s Past. Washington D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989.

Iuga, Liliana. “Reshaping the Historic City under Socialism: State Preservation, Urban Planning and the Politics of Scarcity in Romania (1945-1977).” PhD diss. Central European University, 2016.

Ronnas, Per. “Turning the Romanian Peasant into a New Socialist Man: An Assessment of Rural Development Policy in Romania.” Soviet Studies 41, no. 4 (1989): 543-59.

Walker, Shaun. “Romania comes to terms with monument to communism 30 years after Ceaușescu’s death: Bucharest’s notorious Palace of the Parliament bears witness to the folly of dictator shot dead on Christmas Day 1989” The Guardian. December 22, 2019.șescu-christmas-day.



[1] Frédéric Rouvillois, “Utopia and Totalitarianism” in Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World (New York City: New York Public Library, 2000) 316.

[2] Robert Fishman, “Plan Voisin,” in Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier (Boston: MIT Press, 1982), 205-212.

[3] Maria de Betania Cavalcanti, “Totalitarian States and Their Influence on City Form: The Case of Bucharest: Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 9, no. 4 (1992): 275-86,

[4] Le Corbusier, “Plan Voisin, Paris, France, 1925 (Extract from Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Oeuvre complète, volume 1, 1910-1929),” Fondation Le Corbusier.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Le Corbusier (author) and Jean-Louis Cohen (introduction), “The Lesson of Rome: Rome and Us,” in Toward an Architecture, (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007), 211-12.

[7] Ibid., “Eyes that do not see,” 149.

[8] Le Corbusier, “Charter of Athens,” The Getty Conservation Institute, 1933.

[9] Fishman, “Quest for Authority / Vichy,” in Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century, 235-252.

[10] Liliana Iuga, Two Meanings of Reconstruction, in “Reshaping the Historic City under Socialism: State Preservation, Urban Planning and the Politics of Scarcity in Romania (1945-1977),” PhD diss. (Central European University, 2016), 67-77.

[11] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949).

[12] “Reflecting on the concepts of streets,” Urban kchoze, December 18, 2014.

[13] “Historically, the loss of Paris always meant the loss of France. The Führer repeats his order that Paris has to be defended. […] The strongest measures to quell insurrection inside the city must be taken. […] The bridges across the Seine are to be prepared for demolition. Paris must not fall into enemy hands except as a field of ruins.” Adolf Hitler, 1944.

[14] “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” – Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1845

[15] Le Corbusier, “Charter of Athens,” The Getty Conservation Institute, 1933.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Darrick Danta, “Ceaușescu’s Bucharest,” Geographical Review 83, no. 2 (1993): 178.

[18] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, 211-12.

[19] Danta, “Ceaușescu’s Bucharest,” 174.

[20] Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas Book (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972).

[21] Alexandru Dumitru, “Destroyed Bucharest,” Bucharestian.

[22] Roann Barris, “Contested Mythologies: The Architectural Deconstruction of a Totalitarian Culture,” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 54, no. 4 (2001): 229-37.

[23] Valerie Fraser, “Brasília” in Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America, 1930-1960 (Verso: New York, 2000), 212-72.

[24] Although his book never mentions Bucharest, inspiration for the line of critique taken in this section of the essay is inspired from: Michael Minkenberg, Power and Architecture: The Construction of Capitals and the Politics of Space (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014).

[25] Per Ronnas, “Turning the Romanian Peasant into a New Socialist Man: An Assessment of Rural Development Policy in Romania,” Soviet Studies 41, no. 4 (1989): 543-59,

[26] Dinu C. Giurescu, The Razing of Romania’s Past (Washington D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989).

[27] Donald Trump, “Executive Order 13697: Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” National Archives, December 23, 2020,

[28] Raluca Besliu, “Communist Nostalgia in Romania,” openDemocracy, April 13, 2014,

[29] Le Corbusier, “Charter of Athens,” The Getty Conservation Institute, 1933.

[30] “Genesis” 1:1-5, New International Version.



Figure [i]: Faut-il raser Paris ? Le plan Voisin de Le Corbusier (1925), 2021, image still from film, Le Tableau de Paris,

Figure [ii]: Maria de Betania Cavalcanti, “Totalitarian States and Their Influence on City Form: The Case of Bucharest, Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 9, no. 4 (1992): 280 fig. 1,

Figure [iii]: Les Halles Marketplace in Paris, photo,

Figure [iv]: Marketplace in Bucharest: Andrei Pandele, “30 Astonishing Vintage Photographs Capture Everyday Life in Bucharest Under Ceausescu Era of the 1970s and ‘80” Vintage Everyday, May 11, 2018,

Figure [v]: Mihai Voda Orthodox Church: Kit Gillet, “Eugeniu Iordachescu, Who Saved Bucharest’s Churches, Dies at 89,” The New York Times, January 11, 2019,

Figure [vi]: Church of Saint John the New in 1986: “Urbán Tamás,” Fortepan, 1986,Biserica Sfântul Ioan cel Nou,%20urban%20tamas.

Figure [vii]: Church of Saint John the New in 2019: image from Google Maps street view.

Figure [viii]: Le Corbusier with Plan Voisin: Robert Fishman, Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier (Boston: MIT Press, 1982).

Figure [ix]: Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, 1508-12, Vatican.