Tag Archive for #pennstation

Christie on the Hudson?

Ignore his fanboy antics in fat-cat NFL skyboxes and blowing $12MM to $25MM of public money to run a special election three weeks before his own re-election to keep Cory Booker off the same ballot. Even set aside Bridgegate for the moment.

If not for Chris Christie, we would be five years into the construction of new rail tunnels under the Hudson River today. And the region, especially New Jersey, would be better off.

Earlier this week, equipment problems in the Hudson River tunnels caused severe disruptions of service and extensive delays for New Jersey commuters trying to get to their jobs in Manhattan. The delays were so bad that Anthony Foxx, the U. S. Secretary of Transportation, contacted Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, the governors of New York and New Jersey respectively, to stress the urgency of building new tunnel connections between Manhattan and New Jersey (also known as the U.S. mainland).

Problem is Christie torpedoed this project back in 2010 when it was called the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC). At the time, he loudly proclaimed his fiscal responsibility and determination not to stick the citizens of New Jersey with what he called “an open ended letter of credit” for cost overruns.  Never mind that the Government Accounting Office found that claim to be grossly incorrect.

It was just the thing to do to attract the favorable attention of the national Republican Party, also known as the “let’s shrink government at all costs, wreck the country in the name of ideological purity, and line our donors’ pockets Party”, and leap onto the national stage as a leading contender for President in 2016.

When Christie scuttled the ARC, he deprived New Jersey homeowners of an estimated $18 billion (yes, BILLION) in property value appreciation. That is wealth that would have also translated into an estimated $375 million in new municipal New Jersey tax revenues annually, according to a study done by the Regional Plan Association. Travel times would have been drastically shortened for at least half of those who commute from New Jersey to New York by rail. The project would also have created relatively long-term construction jobs, most of which would likely have been union jobs, known for solid wages and good benefits. Making it easier to get to New York would also likely have provided new economic opportunities for New Jersey residents in New York, especially significant since the median wage in New York is 60% (yes, sixty percent) higher in New York than it is in New Jersey.

It’s a lot to give up, unless you’re considering a run for the Presidency and you can trumpet your slash-and-burn approach to governing to the national Republican Party, break out onto the national stage, move several rungs up the ladder of presidential contenders, and get invited to give the keynote speech at the convention (where, incidentally you can mention yourself more than 7 times as often as the real nominee, whose name you don’t even utter until more than 16 minutes into your speech).

Add to that the benefits to you as a sitting governor. Take the $4 billion earmarked for the ARC, put it into the state Transportation Trust Fund (nearly insolvent at the time) and skip raising the state tax on gasoline.  If, along the way, you have to reimburse the Federal government $95 million for sunk costs, it’s a small price to pay, with, of course, public money.

Pretty compelling stuff provided that your own ambition comes before the interests of your constituents.

All that said ARC (now called Gateway) is back in the news. If anything, the benefits are greater than they were, and it is a must-do project for the region. While there are reasonable discussions to be had about how it should be financed, the sooner we resolve them and get started, the better for all of us.


Reflecting on 1 World Trade Center

With Michael Kimmelman weighing in on 1 World Trade Center earlier this week, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the lessons learned.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was an Associate at SOM back in the mid-1980s, where it was my privilege to work with many of the very talented architects and designers who eventually played leading roles in the design and construction of 1 World Trade Center.  Unfortunately, talent and hard work are too often placed in the service of disappointing ends.

While SOM’s execution is superb, Mr. Kimmelman’s overall assessment was too kind.

Even so, when SOM shoved Daniel Libeskind out of the way, and I have no doubt that their fingerprints are all over that one, we were done a great service.  Daniel Libeskind is really in the business of winning architectural competitions, a great business by the way, but not necessarily the same business as actually making the buildings that his renderings conjure up.  As seductive as the renderings may have been, and they were, and as heartfelt his accompanying “Memory Foundations” essay was, and it was the best part of his entire submission, the resulting buildings would have been even more disappointing than what was really built.  The fault, though, really lies in the plan, which was flawed from the beginning.

Before that beginning, there was a far better plan back in 2002, proposed by Beyer Blinder Belle, another well-known and very well regarded New York firm.  BBB’s plan clearly showed that they had reflected on the costly lessons learned from dozens of failed urban development projects since the 1960s.  Unlike the plan that finally took hold at the Trade Center site, BBB discarded many of the now-discredited planning strategies that go back nearly sixty years; more if you count the original sin, which is LeCorbusier’s Voisin Plan for Paris from the 1920s.

Beyer Blinder Belle’s proposal charted a new course.  Streets destroyed for the construction of the original WTC would be restored.  The office space lost would be completely replaced, but in a series of smaller buildings, more appropriately and urbanely scaled.   There was an opportunity for mixed use development, so that people could live, work, dine, drink, meet, greet, take recreation, and enjoy fuller lives all in one neighborhood.  Open spaces would be woven into the new urban fabric, creating a harmonious rhythm of built and open, brick and green.  Many different architects would design individual buildings, creating variety, interest, and excitement.  There would, of course, be a memorial, perhaps more intimate and less bombastic than what is there.  And the economics would be more manageable, the growth more flexible and organic, responding to true market forces, not subvented ones.

The opportunity was there to reimagine urban development and redevelopment, and establish New York in its rightful place as the city where great ideas come from.  You can see at least some of that proposal here http://to.pbs.org/1nHZi6E

The reaction?  A resounding chorus of disdain and derision led by the late Herbert Muschamp, Mr. Kimmelman’s predecessor at the Times, and joined by the mainstream press, even, inexplicably, by Ada Louise Huxtable.

Mr. Muschamp, suffering from what I can only understand as a severe case of cultural inferiority, railed against BBB’s proposal, even going so far as to call it “blah, blah, and blah”, advocating instead a collection of office towers, each designed by a global superstar architect, arrayed as if in a kind of museum of late-career-toppers by the superannuated darlings of the global architectural press.  Mr. Muschamp seemed to believe that by building these things, New York would finally get “good” architecture.  The fact is, New York has lots of talented architects, and plenty of good buildings; while developers may need them to push their wares, New York as a city doesn’t need branded starchitect buildings the way, for example, Milwaukee needed its Calatrava, or China needs just about everything.

Chances are, given George Pataki’s delusions of national office, the Port Authority’s internal machinations, and the power of not only Larry Silverstein but the entire New York real estate business, no other plan stood a chance, and the press went along for the ride. Still, one has to wonder what form the discussion would have taken had Mr. Muschamp and others considered the logic of BBB’s plan, and advocated its more evolved thinking, instead of championing the outmoded ideas that have driven the planning of the Trade Center site.

There’s cause for cautious optimism here.  Mr. Kimmelman has had some success in his advocacy for the relocation of Madison Square Garden, the demolition of the current Garden, and the construction of a world-class new Penn Station.

That’s a project we all can, and should, get behind.