Initially, there was a strict screening process to get into the Rockaways’ new projects. Over time, though, those with steady incomes were encouraged to leave, to make room for people on public assistance. To city officials, the Rockaways’ distant location made it an ideal destination for troubled families and individuals. The projects that lined the seven-mile-long peninsula were soon joined by facilities for recently deinstitutionalized mental patients and high-rise nursing homes.
“After World War II, Rockaway was essentially treated as a dumping ground,” says Lawrence Kaplan, the co-author of “Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York,” which details the area’s devolution into an outpost for the city’s neediest populations.
Today, in the aftermath of the storm, it is hard not to see the Rockaway projects as inherently flawed, doomed not only by their exposure to the storm-churned waters of the Atlantic, but by their very design. Densely populated, without any retail space, and isolated from the rest of the city, the mostly poor residents have relied on help arriving from the outside. Moses may have thought he was breaking up the city’s ghettos; in fact, he was relocating them and setting them in concrete.