arts 08.20.07

The BQE

October 1, 1958: five children cut the ribbons to celebrate the opening of a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Robert Moses and Governor Harriman make speeches. Moses says he recognizes "how much agony and controversy there is on the way to completion of such projects." And Governor Harriman says that even if families had to be displaced, the planners had to "consider the needs not only of today, but of the next half century."

From the vantage point of half a century later, Moses lip-services compassion, while Harriman feigns competence. (Plus Ça change). Even with its recent reconstruction, the BQE is something to be endured, a terrible highway to drive by most standards. (The bank robbers in the comedy Quick Change, trying to make a getaway, encounter the road's famously confusing and elusive exits and entrances.)

Original construction for an expressway connecting Brooklyn and Queens began in 1937 and Moses got in the act a few years later. The 11.7 mile road wasn't completed until 1964, at a cost of $137 million (ten times Moses' original estimate). The highway slashed through Red Hook and almost did the same to Brooklyn Heights; residents were able to dodge the bullet by mounting a vigorous protest to Moses' plan. And they proposed that the highway be moved to the water's edge and the promenade built atop. Moses acquiesced and that's how the Brooklyn Promenade came to be.

Besides the Promenade and the occasional city views from the road, the BQE isn't exactly a paean magnet. Yet it's getting a musical consideration this fall at BAM by the incredibly interesting and gifted singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Called "The BQE," the piece will combine video footage (a virtual road trip) with orchestrated selections of new and old material—"an evocation of the intersection of intimate experience and the American Dream." The performances are November 1-3, 8pm, tickets are $20-$50, and tickets go on sale September 4th (August 27th for Friends of BAM). Details.

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