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12.17.2008
Editorial: Promises to Keep
In revamping our nation's dying infrastructure, President-elect Obama needs to bring architects and design leaders on board.

It’s finally happening! We have a president who cares about architects! And architecture! And the urban environment! And infrastructure! As we've noted elsewhere, President-elect Obama has promised to invest billions in alternative energy, to increase new and existing building efficiency, and to revamp our nation’s decaying infrastructure.

It goes without saying that I’m not the only one now holding my breath and hoping that he follows through on these promises. But I’d like to ask our leader-to-be to go even further. First, in implementing his new agenda, he needs to take architects and other design leaders on board and single out the built environment in his strategic planning. I agree with recommendations recently circulated by the AIA that a high-level advisor on green buildings must be part of the White House advisory team, and that the White House ought to develop its own office of Urban Policy. Our country has cabinet members dedicated to the health of our national parks, our housing, and our transportation systems. Why not members dedicated to green building and urban issues? Plenty of political pundits are all coming together on the subject of green building and infrastructure as a sure way to save our environment, and even rescue our economy.

Furthermore, we need to pay closer attention to the way that the health of our cities—where the majority of our citizens live and where most of our wealth is created—has an immediate impact on such issues as public transportation, coordinated planning, and affordable housing. Singling these areas out will send a message that President-elect Obama takes the environment seriously. Whether cabinet-level post or urban policy office, either one would help to better organize efforts that are now scattered across various government branches. At the very least, these topics should be given specific managers, empowered to spearhead efforts and whom we can hold accountable, within existing departments.

And regarding the President-elect’s promises on infrastructure—something we know about here in California—he needs to push not only for more funding, but for tying that funding firmly to much more innovation and integration. Forget the same old same old, it’s time to use our technology and our design skills to create transit systems and support systems that increase efficiency, usability, and safety; preserve and enhance open space; meet our green building goals; and blend seamlessly and dramatically with our cities and our neighborhoods. In order to help spur this effort, AN is teaming with SCI-Arc’s newly inaugurated SCIFI (Southern California Institute for Future Initiatives) program to develop a competition for architects, engineers, and urban planners to propose new ideas for LA’s—and the country’s—infrastructure. LA County’s recently-passed Measure R, which will provide up to $40 billion for transportation in the next 30 years, is an opportunity we can’t afford to squander. Nor are federal infrastructure promises. Stay tuned to our pages for more updates on the competition, which will launch early next year. We need you, and our best minds in all fields, to think together to come up with the best solutions. This is our chance of a lifetime.

Sam Lubell