Search results for "Downtown Brooklyn"

Placeholder Alt Text

Tillett Lighting Design
Syracuse Connective Corridor, Syracuse, New York
Courtesy Tillett Lighting Design

Tillett Lighting Design has been around since 1983, when founder Linnaea Tillett parlayed her theater background into a practice for lighting private fine art collections. In the past ten years, however, her firm has become known for the civic and landscape work it has produced in collaboration with such high-profile talents as Maya Lin, Toshiko Mori, Michael Van Valkenburgh, and Lebbeus Woods.

“I was raised in New York City,” said Tillett, “and have always been interested in the urban environment and what makes a safe-feeling street.” In 1990, she put her firm on hold and entered a graduate program at City College, studying the fundamentals of perception and, over the course of the next decade, earning a PhD in environmental psychology. “I wanted to learn more about how we understand our environment, how we understand fear, and the difference between fear and excitement. I was trying to get to the bottom of the psychological effects of lighting in a space.”

Milne-Ojito Residence, New York, New York

Tillett got a chance to put this training into practice in the late ‘90s, when she answered an RFP issued by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT was looking for designers to light a neighborhood and study its effects. Tillett chose a particularly desolate stretch of New Lots Avenue in East New York. Using inexpensive decorative fixtures, the firm lit a path from the elevated subway to the area’s two main landmarks: a church and a library. In the year following the installation, library attendance and circulation increased, and pedestrians reported increased comfort while walking home at night.

One of the most important lessons that Tillett took away from the East New York project was that too much light can be a bad thing. The “crime light” typical of such underserved neighborhoods—glaring floodlights more suitable to lighting a stadium than a streetscape—can end up working against residents’ sense of comfort. “We now ask the question, ‘Why light?’” said Tillett. “That’s a question that doesn’t get asked enough. It’s not just a question of energy, but of why do it at all? We want people to meet outdoors at night in a civilized way, to create a sense of enchantment that will draw people to a place and keep them there. Maybe in certain cases we need to take away lighting.”

Bear Canyon Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tillett is currently working on two civic projects that take the approach of using as little light as possible. One is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that crosses a six-lane freeway in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tillett is installing LED strips at the edges of the pathway that will wash the expanded metal mesh tube enclosing the bridge in a peachy, watermelon-colored glow inspired by the color of the sunset on the nearby mountains.

The firm is also involved in a Federal Aid project to revitalize Syracuse, New York, by reinforcing the five-mile-long connective corridor between downtown and Syracuse University. Tillett has proposed coating specific nodes along this path with highly reflective material that will be illuminated with one watt of light, creating a series of bold markers along the way that highlight pedestrian spaces, bike paths, and public transportation.

Bear Canyon Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tillett Lighting Design has not given up its private clients. The firm supplements work in the public realm by lighting hospitality and residential spaces. “The private work gives a flow and stability to the office,” explained Tillett. In addition to the financial benefits, these projects feed the civic work both creatively and technically. “You can work more freely with private clients,” she said. “There are no codes or bureaucracies to deal with, and they often ask naive questions that lead to really innovative outcomes.”

For the Milne-Ojito Residence, a Soho loft, the clients needed a divider between their living room and sleeping area. Working with artist Joan Waltemath and architecture firm I-Beam Design, Tillet created a sliding glass door coated with phosphorus powder that glows cerulean blue. LED strips embedded in the door’s framing feed the phosphor, while mirrors and iridescent material in the glass further augment the lighting effect. “The difficult thing with phosphorus is color, but the technology is getting there,” Tillett said. “The next question is how to use it in a public space.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Filling Downtown's Donut Hole
ARO and Beyer Blinder Belle have developed a new plan for an area south of the World Trade Center known as Greenwich South. They selected architects to test-drive their ideas, including Morphosis, which created Battery Park North.
Courtesy Downtown Alliance

One lament about the original World Trade Center was that its construction entailed the razing of Radio Row, the small neighborhood of shops around Cortlandt Street that specialized in electronics. While that bit of old New York has long been eulogized, many may not realize that a second swath of downtown has remained virtually on life support since the Twin Towers' completion: a 25-block area directly south of Liberty Street.

WorkAC designed a "plug-in building" to accommodate the area's oddly laid out buildings. 
That stretch of commercial, retail, and residential buildings is now poised for a resurrection, spurred in part by new development and the imminent return of Greenwich Street through the World Trade Center site-along with a new visioning plan, unveiled yesterday by the Downtown Alliance, aimed at stitching the area back into the city.

Newly dubbed Greenwich South, the neighborhood has been something of cipher since the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel took a chunk out of its core, not to mention the accompanying parking garage and a warren of Revolutionary-era streets that make navigation difficult even for veteran New Yorkers.

“Right now, it's the hole in the donut,” said Elizabeth Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance. “But if you look at a map, it's at the heart of the action. We want to take a moment to explore this area and make it really integral to everything surrounding it.”

To that end, the Downtown Alliance selected Architecture Research Office in early 2008 to spend a year developing a master plan for the area. Stephen Cassell, ARO's partner-in-charge, said that in light of the many previous plans for the area-one of which called for 30-foot-high skywalks between buildings-designers took a more flexible approach.

ARO chose the plum assignment of decking over the approach to the tunnel, a dream of planners for decades.
Open has designed a new wayfinding system that combines art, history, and information to draw people into and direct them through the neighborhood.
Beyer Blinder Belle Proposed transforming the old American Stock Exchange Building into a new destination museum.

“It really operates on multiple scales,” Cassell said of the plan, “and the key is you don't need one or the other to be successful. It's not averse to megaprojects, but it's not dependent on them, either.”

Simple art installations have been proposed to draw people in, such as this one by DeWitt Godfrey.
IwamotoScott designed a tower with holes in its base to restore the street.
ARO teamed up with Beyer Blinder Belle, which provided its master-planning expertise, and Open, a graphic-design firm charged with making Greenwich South more visible and accessible. The team came up with five principles: Reconnect Greenwich Street, transform the neighborhood into a magnet, create east-to-west connections, encourage an intensive mix of uses, and promote a mix of densities with a human scale.

Each principle works both in the immediate and long terms. Beyond the literal reconnection of Greenwich Street-to be completed by 2011-the plan seeks to turn the byway into a connector for southwestern Manhattan, as it will now be the only other street besides Broadway running the entire length of downtown (the plan considers West Street and FDR Drive as essentially freeways). In fact, the hope for the long term is to create a bike-, transit-, and pedestrian-friendly boulevard superior even to Broadway.

To ensure that the planning principles work, ARO tapped ten designers and artists, who provided their work pro bono to implement pieces of the plan during a six-week charrette. Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis created a vertical park that bridges the Battery Park tunnel, offering east-west access while helping scrub the district's noxious air. Coen + Partners proposed vertical landscaping for the tunnel's exhaust shaft, neighboring buildings, and other access points to the neighborhood. DeWitt Godfrey created a sculpture as a gateway at Exchange Place, while Open devised flexible wayfinding solutions, and Beyer Blinder Belle created a new museum at the American Stock Exchange building.

On the grander scale, WorkAC devised a “plug-in building” designed to fit within the puzzle of structures that already fill the district. Morphosis proposed Battery North, an extension of the park into the district. IwamotoScott developed a swirling tower with openings at its base to encourage pedestrian flow. And ARO decked over the approach to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, replacing it with a tiered park and public market.

The Downtown Alliance has created an installation designed by Open located in Zuccotti Park that helps bring attention to the plan.

Proposals for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel by Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis and Coen+Partners were among those displayed in the park.
photos by matt chaban

“In the long view, after the World Trade Center is completed, there's not that many places left in Lower Manhattan,” said Neil Kittredge, director of planning and urban design at Beyer Blinder Belle. “For development, Greenwich South is one of the last places that's left. But we want to make sure it is unlike anything else before it.”

The Downtown Alliance has installed an exhibition of the plan at Zuccotti Park, with a show of the 10 proposals due to open at the Center for Architecture Friday.

Placeholder Alt Text

Block Party
The site is designed as a
Dean Kaufman

Vacant parcels of Manhattan real estate are usually cordoned off behind chain-link fences or occupied by “taxpayer” parking lots until they can be turned into income-earning buildings. But the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) has worked with Trinity Real Estate to make a bare downtown block the developer owns—in the newly designated Hudson Square neighborhood—into a temporary public space.

Bounded by Canal, Grand, Sullivan, and Varick streets, the block was intended for a rental building, but the recent market downturn forced the project to be put on hold. So Trinity donated the site for what the LMCC conceived as an “in the meantime” platform for contemporary art, design, and performance. Dubbed LentSpace and opening to the public tomorrow, the project will be programmed throughout the year by the LMCC, which commissioned the architects Interboro Partners to design it, with a graphic identity by the Brooklyn group Thumb.

The tree nursery helps soften an area dominated by hardscape.
Photographs by Dean Kaufman

Interboro has subdivided the graveled site into visually interlocking spaces through the use of earth-filled plywood boxes filled with trees, themselves destined to be repurposed throughout Lower Manhattan at a later date. A 215-foot-long, operable plywood fence fronts a display surface for commissioned graphic design projects, and doubles as a bench meant for social encounters. The first exhibit, Points and Lines, was organized by LMCC curator Adam Kleinman and features eight artists who created temporary sculptural pieces out of common building materials that refer to the constructive nature of the site. The exhibit also furthers Interboro’s aim to create activated spaces and thresholds, while encouraging a variety of performance pieces.

Together, the art and urban design help to invigorate a part of the city that is short on public open space. This site could easily have remained closed off to New Yorkers for years, so the developer should be applauded for donating the land—along with F.J. Sciame Construction, which donated the labor. The space is open from 7:00 a.m. to dusk, and Points of Light will run through January.

The custom operable fence contains benches for social encounters.
Placeholder Alt Text

Gehry Shines in Court
He may have lost Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, but at least Frank Gehry won't have to forfeit half the proceeds from his jewelry line designed for Tiffany & Co. Yesterday, a judge threw out a case from Culver City-based Circa charging it was owed a fee for a 2003 agreement it struck with the Santa Monica designer for half the profits from any jewelry deal, though it was apparently rescinded a year later, though the two sides differ on this point. Gehry later entered into a direct deal with Tiffany, excluding Circa and its proprietors, Fred and Anthony Nicholas, though people at the company claim to have introduced the architect to New York jeweler. "I couldn't understand why he wanted so much money for doing nothing," Gehry told NBC LA outside the courthouse following LA Superior Court judge Jane Johnson's decision not to hear the case. Maybe this explains the tagline for Gehry's Tiffany line: "Beauty Without Rules."
Placeholder Alt Text

On the Spot
Placeholder Alt Text

Midtown West
A map of many major development projects in Downtown Brooklyn. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

The city may call it Midtown West, but the corner of 8th Avenue and 41st Street certainly doesn’t feel like Midtown. The monochromatic New York Times tower has nothing in common with the lights of 42nd Street, and the new Eleven Times Square, with its relatively rectilinear offices atop layers of scrolling screens, has nothing in common with the Port Authority, which has spawned a brand-name, low-price hotel district just to its south, where McSam and the Lam Group have squeezed shiny buildings onto narrow tenement lots. And that’s only one clash of cultures between the titans in this so-called neighborhood.

5/8/6: The New Midtown West takes shape, as the Orion, 11 Times Square, and the hotels at 337-343 West 39th Street rise along 8th Avenue. (Numbers refer to the development map above)

One can still happen upon charming, low-rise residential streets like West 44th, properly known as Hell’s Kitchen, where the Actors Studio keeps company with home store Domus, and the new construction is the modestly scaled, rather elegant Chatham 44. Another pocket of old-fashioned residential exists south of the Farley Post Office on West 30th Street. These streets are anomalies amid the transportation no-man’s-land imposed by railroad tracks, tunnel ramps, and bus station access.

Today they are the last holdouts in an above-ground landscape rapidly undergoing transformation, as the march of luxury residential towers like River Place, Atelier, and now Silver Towers heads across 42nd to the river, buffered by huge commercial assemblages from Extell and Moinian opposite the Javits Center. At least, that was the plan until last fall. Now action has all but halted and will likely remain that way until the No. 7 train extension to 34th Street is more than its current hole in the ground.

4: Silver Towers

The city’s vision for the area, embodied in the 2005 Hudson Yards rezoning text, centers on a brand-new Park Avenue called Hudson Boulevard, which slices the long blocks between 10th and 11th from 33rd to 39th streets. Originally intended as the pompous lead-up to the West Side Stadium, its new role is to create focus and amenity for a future row of green office buildings on its west side, and residential towers to the east and north.

The first three blocks, 33rd to 36th, are scheduled to open in 2013, when No. 7 riders could exit a Toshiko Mori teardrop-shaped station at the base of the park-slash-boulevard to be designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). There are two LEED-certified office buildings in development, Extell’s World Product Centre and Moinian’s 3 Hudson Boulevard, that would open at the same time if both financing and tenants appear.

But Anna Hayes Levin, current chair of the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee (HYCAC), doesn’t think the boulevard of skyscrapers could or should happen. “It is a very unlikely place for commercial development,” she said. “Hudson Boulevard is a boulevard to nowhere—it only goes to 39th Street, into the maw of the Lincoln Tunnel. A better way to increase green space in the area would be to build a series of linked parks in the through-block open spaces over the Amtrak train cut. That way you would get a more organic, neighborhoody feeling.”

9/6/3: 505 West 37th Street, the hotels at 337-343 West 39th Street, the Atelier Condos

Right now, construction in the area is all rentals, including a 34-story High Line–adjacent tower at 316 11th by Douglaston Development, and two Rockrose projects at 37th and 10th. Earlier this year 455 West 37th was leased, and the two linked towers on the west side of the street should be ready in spring 2010. “The timing is not great for it,” admitted Rockrose director of planning John McMillan, “but no one else is building, so there will not be much else online when it’s completed. To establish a new neighborhood takes housing.”

11: 316 11th Avenue 

They chose this particular intersection because of proximity to the Baryshnikov Arts Center at 37 ARTS and a large loft building on 37th, since those projects “established a residential bulkhead.” A similar bulkhead may be established when the northern section of the High Line opens in 2010, linking Chelsea to Midtown. Community Board 4 is also working to rezone 11th Avenue north of 42nd Street for residential use, extending Hell’s Kitchen west onto a street of auto dealerships.

With zero demand for new office space in Midtown and vacancies at a ten-year high, Moinian director of development Oskar Brecher says his company is in negotiations (and potentially litigation) with the city about starting the small residential portion of their Hudson Boulevard site in advance. Like Brecher, architect-developer Jared Della Valle of Alloy LLC, which owns a mid-block site between 35th and 36th streets, bemoaned the Hudson Yards rezoning for coupling residential and commercial development. “The city has the perspective that this is a 30-year plan, and that it will fill in the way they envisioned it,” said Della Valle. In the meantime, he suggests cultural organizations should come up with interim uses (outdoor movies? Serra sculptures?) for all those fallow lots.

Then there’s the biggest site, the Hudson rail yards. Construction on the eastern yard could start anytime (once Related signs a contract with the MTA), with buildings ready in 2015, but now is clearly not that time. The company has a new plan—released this spring as part of the ULURP review for the site—designed by KPF with MVVA as landscape architect, that has received favorable reviews from the community for putting streets back in the superblock and breaking the open space into smaller, more purposeful parks.

12: 605 West 42nd Street

But what’s a park, even one at the end of the (probably) retained High Line, if it’s shadowed by 50-story towers? Because the floor area ratios for Hudson Yards are being calculated across the entire site, which includes ten acres of open space, the buildings can be much taller than those on a typical city site with a FAR of 10. “It makes sense to have a high-density corridor between 30th and 34th streets, around Penn Station, and then extending west at diminished densities,” said HYCAC’s Levin.

The community advisory group’s other major concern is giving a single developer power over such a large chunk of the city. Regional Planning Association president Robert Yaro expressed the same fear and suggested a solution in a recent interview: If the city wants to be involved in the planning, let them set up an authority like the one that has run Battery Park City. That way, the streets and parks would be owned by the city, which would also have the ability to sell development parcels over time, reacting to the city’s changing needs. Related, instead, has to plan today for what New York buildings might be needed in 2015, 2020, or never.

Placeholder Alt Text

Downtown Brooklyn
A map of many major development projects in Downtown Brooklyn. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

When Harry Rosen opened Junior’s in 1950, the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field and Brooklyn was in its heyday. The restaurant’s Flatbush Avenue neighbors included the Paramount and Fox theaters, where Brooklynites could hear Duke Ellington or, a few years later, Chuck Berry. Downtown was a real neighborhood, said Joe Chan, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), and the recent wave of development—no matter how chaotic in appearance—aims to make it one again.

7: Toren (Numbers refer to the development map above)

The intervening decades saw the area along Flatbush decline into automotive uses and an uninviting barrier condition. In 2004, the nonprofit DBP and the commercial and academic stakeholders it represents, along with relevant city agencies, saw the area’s rezoning as a chance to recapture that history with residents, jobs, entertainment, diverse retail, and 24/7 street life. “It should have all the elements of economic sustainability,” said Chan, who spent five years as City Hall’s point person for the rezoning. The plan also incorporated PlaNYC’s principles for greening public space and guiding density toward transit nodes.

Before the bubble burst in 2008, the on-the-ground reality along Flatbush, however, was hyper-development, particularly in the condominium sector, and a jarring degree of gentrification. Major projects include the 42-story Avalon Fort Greene at Myrtle and Flatbush, a rental building by Perkins Eastman Architects now under construction; BFC Partners’ 37-story Toren by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy at the same intersection; Ismael Leyva’s 40-story Gold Street tower, Oro; and 80 DeKalb, a 34-story 80/20 by Costas Kondylis for Forest City Ratner. Downtown residential construction includes some 20 fully funded projects in all.

17/13: The future site of City Point, with 80 DeKalb Avenue under construction in the background

But sales have lagged behind expectations, and some new construction is now “trending toward rental,” said Chan, “for those that were still in the planning phases before the credit markets really took a turn.” Toren, as of this writing, is 50 percent sold; Oro, 40 percent. Developers who “in the past were negotiating with big boxes,” said councilperson Letitia James, an advocate of affordable housing and local employment, are instead considering day-care centers and schools, perhaps even quartering students from downtown’s seven higher-educational institutions. In fact, last year’s economic reality check may end up steering development patterns away from drastic gentrification and closer to a more inclusive community vision.

1/6: The Oro and Avalon Fort Greene

The DBP’s Downtown Brooklyn Plan allows FARs of 10 or 12 south of MetroTech (increased from 6) along Flatbush to a jigsaw border including Boerum Place and Adams, Jay, and Smith streets. The ensuing densification counterbalances the 2007 downzoning in the brownstone districts of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The City Point mixed-use complex would replace Albee Square Mall with residences, retail, offices, and possibly a hotel, although construction is stalled, and reports of a 65-story skyscraper by Atlanta-based architect GreenbergFarrow appear premature. “The only part of City Point that will go forward is the affordable housing at this point,” James reports, “and that’s still in discussion.”

20: Ingersol Houses

On Duffield Street, all but one of several buildings thought to have served as abolitionist safe houses have fallen under eminent domain. Depending on fundraising, the remaining house at 227 Duffield will become an Underground Railroad museum surrounded by new development, including four hotels ranging from a 130-room V3 boutique to a 320-room Sheraton.

Much of the area’s physical and social healing depends on whether Flatbush continues to resemble a highway or evolves toward a boulevard with development that “knits neighborhoods together,” according to SOM’s Duffy. Flatbush needs to be “less of an edge, more of a permeable condition between pre- existing neighborhoods.”

Noting how vehicles and the “defensive” MetroTech buildings combine to separate Fort Greene from downtown, Duffy looks to design as well as programming for reintegration. Toren, with its dimpled facade of Argentine aluminum panels painted powder-coat silver, stands out from the area’s dominant masonry styles; at ground level, its facade “was meant to foster transparent activity at the street edge,” he said.

18: Future home of Willoughby Square Park

Schermerhorn House, designed by Susan Rodriguez and Polshek Partnership for a publicly-owned site near Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, is an intriguing exception to the highrise activity, performing a comparably mediating function on a 12-story structure. With a glass-tower design that Rodriguez describes as having two distinct faces—one reflecting Downtown Brooklyn’s larger scale, and the other stepping down to the brownstones of Boerum Hill—this multipurpose project spearheaded by Common Ground Community and Actors Fund of America includes studio units for special-needs populations like the formerly homeless, artists, and other low-income residents.

Downtown’s near future may look less glittering than developers had hoped, but for some that’s a relief. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not trying to create a new city,” said James. “What we’re trying to do is improve on that which we have and create opportunities for residents who have lived through the bad times and want to benefit from the good times."

Placeholder Alt Text

Two-Way Transfer
In addition to creating better circulation, the new Bleecker Street station will have restored historic details.
Courtesy Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects

Built in 1904 as part of New York City’s first subway line—the IRT—the Bleecker Street station retains much of its turn-of-the-century charm. It also shows its age in less appealing ways: The station’s platforms are narrow and inaccessible to the handicapped, water infiltration has marred its beautifully detailed tile work, and a direct transfer to the nearby Broadway-Lafayette IND station is only provided from the southbound track.

These flaws are all on the way to being remedied, however. The MTA, as part of its 2005–2009 capital program, has begun construction on a $94 million expansion and rehabilitation of the station. Designed by Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects (LHP) and Weidlinger Associates, the project is scheduled for completion in 2011.

The linchpin of the new Bleecker Street station is an extension of the Broadway-Lafayette station's mezzanine, creating a connection between downtown and uptown platforms.
images courtesy Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects

Much of the work involves restoring the landmarked station’s historic architectural detail while bringing its systems up to contemporary specs. The project will clean and repair the white ceramic tile, mosaic bands, roman brickwork wainscoting with marble caps, and the eight blue terra cotta Bleecker Street name plaques. It will also replace the lighting and public address system and update the MTA’s maintenance facilities.

The bulk of the design and engineering work, however, surrounds the transfer between the Bleecker Street station’s northbound platform and the Broadway-Lafayette station. To achieve this, LHP and Weidlinger designed an extension of the platform 300 feet to the south, connecting with a mezzanine of the Broadway-Lafayette station that has been out of use since the 1960s. This mezzanine is the linchpin of the design, both containing the space for the elevators and escalators that will make both stations ADA compliant, as well as providing the transition point to tie them together architecturally.

A cross-section of the intersecting stations, which will be extended to make room for elevators, providing access for the disabled.

“From an architectural point of view, we saw an opportunity to create a three-level atrium space that connects from the Broadway-Lafayette platforms to the Bleecker platforms,” said Jim Wright, project manager for LHP. “By visually connecting the stations, you provide orientation and security. You can see where you’re going.”

LHP took its design cues from a 1995 renovation of the Broadway-Lafayette station, which was first opened in 1936. That renovation, completed by New York City Transit’s Office of Station Design architects, created a double-height atrium space that opens into a gently curving mezzanine. LHP echoed this curve when carving out its own atrium and replicated the finishes of the earlier space. “The look and the feel will be of the Broadway-Lafayette station,” explained Wright.

The newly rehabilitated mezzanine will have its own distinguishing characteristic, however. At the top of the atrium the MTA is installing a honeycomb-patterned LED light sculpture by artist Leo Villareal, which is entitled Hive.

A rendering of the new Bleecker Street station, which includes Hive, a ceiling installation by artist Leo Villareal.

From a structural engineering point of view, the project presented challenges familiar to all who have sought to adapt and rehabilitate early-20th-century constructions. “Most of the drawings from 1904 that we were working with didn’t have all the information,” said Denis Galvin, an engineer at Weidlinger. “So we had to obtain a lot of our information from observation and measurements, and design around what’s there.”

Weidlinger called for a new tunnel wall in order to expand the northbound IRT platform. They will also construct a new platform, roof, and tunnel duct manhole, and re-support the roof. Completing this work has necessitated excavating along the IRT tunnel box structure adjacent to an existing six-story building, garage, and giant billboard. The foundations of all of these structures had to be deepened and stabilized. Weidlinger expects all of this work to be carried out without interfering with train or utilities service.

The MTA hopes that opening up this transfer point will improve its network performance in Lower Manhattan. The northbound IRT is currently under capacity during the morning rush hour. Once riders coming from Brooklyn on the IND can make an easy northbound transfer, the MTA expects more people to use this route, thus relieving some of the congestion from stations in Lower Manhattan.

Placeholder Alt Text

Taking Back the Streets x2
Before closing Broadway got her branded a car-hating communist, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan was already well on her way to transforming the city's streets. One of the most memorable events--and a sign of things to come--was last year's Summer Streets program, which, for three Saturdays last August, closed off a large swath of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street, with most of the course running up Park Avenue. (There was also a less publicized closure of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.) Never one to stand (or bike) still, Sadik-Khan and the mayor announced today the expansion of the program throughout the summer and across all five boroughs this year. Details after the jump, but first two quick thoughts: Brooklyn, with seven sites, is the obvious winner; and why no Park Avenue this year?
* Bronx Summer Walks – 167th Street between Gerard and Cromwell Avenues, Saturday June 20th, 27th and July 11th, 12 p.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Local Development Corporation of the Bronx.
* Williamsburg Walks – Bedford Avenue between North 4th and North 9th Streets, Saturday June 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th and July 4th and 11th, 12 p.m.- 9 p.m., Sponsored by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, L Magazine. * Summer Streets on Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt Avenue between Dean Street and Park Place, Sundays in June, 12 p.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Coalition. * Summer Plazas, 5th Avenue – 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Sunset Park BID. * The Sunday Scene on Knickerbocker – Knickerbocker Avenue between Suydam and Starr Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. * Pitkin Saturday Plazas – Pitkin Avenue between Strauss and Thomas Boyland Streets, Saturday September 12th, 19th, and 26th, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Pitkin Avenue BID. * Move About Myrtle – Myrtle Avenue between Clinton Street and Emerson Place, Sunday September 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sponsored by Myrtle Ave Partnership. * Montague Summer Space – Montague Street between Hicks and Clinton Streets, Sunday September 13th, 20th, and 27th, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Montague BID.
* Meet the Street – East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue, Saturdays in June, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., Sponsored by Fourth Arts Block. * Stanton Street Summer Sundays – Stanton Street between Allen and Orchard Streets, Sunday August 23rd and 30th and September 6th and 13th, 1 p.m.- 6:30 p.m., Sponsored by Lower East Side BID.
* 46th Street Weekend Walks – 46th Street between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue, Saturdays in August, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Sunnyside Shines BID. * Astoria Water Walk – Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard, Sunday August 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Astoria Park Alliance.
    Staten Island
* Van Duzer Days – Van Duzer Street between Wright and Beach Streets, Saturday August 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd, 12 p.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Downtown SI Council.
Placeholder Alt Text

Gehry'd Away
Frank Gehry's arena designs may now be replaced by Ellerbe Becket's much less ambitious version, above.
Ellerbe Becket/Courtesy

After years of fighting, redesigns, and cutbacks, Frank Gehry is now officially off the Barclays Center, the Nets basketball arena that was to be the centerpiece of his sprawling 22-acre Atlantic Yards complex in central Brooklyn. According to a statement released by Forest City Ratner, Gehry Partners is now the master planner for the site, having been replaced by Ellerbe Becket as designer of the arena. The announcement came less than an hour after the Times reported the news, which was attributed to various government officials and real estate developers who had seen plans for the new arena.

Click to view a slideshow Timeline of the Nets arena.

“Throughout this process—as litigation produced delay; as rising construction costs impacted the budgets of all developers; and a slowing economy altered expectations—Frank and his team have shown remarkable flexibility and professionalism, making cost-effective revisions as needed,” Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner, said in the statement. “The current economic climate is not right for this design, and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.”

Last week, news broke that Ellerbe Becket was involved with the arena project, though at the time, Forest City Ratner maintained that Gehry was as well, which was not exactly surprising given the announcement in December that value-engineering was underway. According to the Times, the arena is now expected to cost $800 million, down from a projected $1 billion. A Ratner spokesperson declined to give exact figures, though he suggested the developer did not object to those numbers, either.

Asked for a timeline on the rest of the project, which includes 16 residential and office towers in addition to the arena, the spokesperson said that remained undecided, as the first priority was finishing the arena. But the spokesperson also suggested that Gehry Partners’ involvement might have come to an end. “Frank might design one of the buildings later, I don’t think it’s impossible,” the spokesperson said. “But right now, he is just the master planner.”

Calls to Ellerbe Becket were not returned, but the Times managed to wrangle a rendering of the project (seen above), despite Forest City Ratner’s release stating that images would not be available until the end of the month. Gehry’s swooping glass and metal designs have been swapped for a more traditional brick facade—something that has, in some ways, already been proposed—that is not unlike Ellerbe Becket’s Conseco Fieldhouse, home to the Indianapolis Pacers.

Gehry had long been seen as a linchpin to the project’s success, touted on the Atlantic Yards website and by numerous politicians. At the announcement of the project in December 2003, Borough President Marty Markowitz declared, “Brooklyn is a world-class city, and it deserves a world-class team in a world-class arena designed by a world-class architect.”

With the announcement of the Gehry removal, Markowitz has not changed his tune, though he is singing in a different key. “The great architect Frank Gehry has been absolutely central to creating the guiding vision for this project, and Ellerbe Becket is one of the best firms in the business—so we can be confident that the Nets and Brooklyn will indeed have a world-class, stunning arena here in Downtown Brooklyn,” Markowitz said in a statement.

Whether or not the switch will cause greater political fallout at the state and city levels remains to be seen, but Daniel Goldstein, head of anti-Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, believes it will. “The project is a zombie project,” he said in a phone interview from Cleveland, where he has flown to attend Forest City’s annual shareholder meeting. “Governor Paterson had to take control and end the charade that this project benefits the public in any way.”

The greater political threat may not even come from Frank Gehry’s departure but from a handful of bureaucrats. Tomorrow, the Independent Budget Office is expected to release a report that shows that the arena, instead of netting a possible $25 million in tax revenues over 30 years, could end up costing the city money, as its contributions have risen from $100 million to $205 million.

Furthermore, Forest City Ratner’s efforts to renegotiate its $100 million payment to the MTA, which are due to be heard at a June 23 meeting, point to ongoing financial problems. “They want to pay $20 million upfront and the rest at a date to be determined,” Goldstein said. “If $80 million is that big of a deal to them, then they’re still in a lot of trouble.”

He also questioned whether Barclays would still be interested in paying $400 million over the course its 20-year naming-rights deal, now that it would not be attached to a Frank Gehry-designed building.

It has not been all bad news for Gehry, however, as Forest City Ratner announced on Monday that the architect’s 76-story Beekman Tower would go ahead as planned, instead of being capped at 40 stories as had been considered earlier this year. Could that decision have had any bearing on today’s announcement? “No, I don’t think there’s any connection,” the Forest City Ratner spokesperson said. “These are business decisions.”

Update: Earlier this morning, Ellerbe Becket sent AN the following statement:

"We are thrilled to be working on what will be a world-class sports and entertainment venue," Bill Crocket, a firm principal, said. "In partnership with Forest City Ratner, we will deliver a spectacular arena that will give Brooklyn the first-class facility it deserves."

Placeholder Alt Text

Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

A few days before his 80th birthday on February 28, Frank Gehry sat down with his good friend, the author and historian John Pastier. The two ranged widely over the architect’s life and work, touching on how he’s been hit by the economy, energized by Obama, and inspired as ever by new technology. They speak candidly about Gehry's frustration with his postmodern peers and the fate of favored projects, among them Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards.

John Pastier: Looking back, did you ever hope or imagine that you would get this far professionally?

Frank Gehry: No, and even though I’m conscious of where I am professionally, I’m actually unconscious of it because psychically I don’t feel any different from where I’ve always been—I’m always nervous, insecure, etc. I think it’s a positive thing, it helps keep you grounded. I’m just more comfortable there, so I do that. But it’s pretty exciting, much of it.

Originally I wanted to do city planning and big-scale urban design projects and social housing. But there was no interest in having architects involved in that. The social housing projects all stopped—HHFA, NFA, etc., didn’t continue.

You started your career working for Victor Gruen. What prompted your leaving in 1960?
They were promoting project managers while the design types were being marginalized. I wasn’t the same Frank Gehry back then. I couldn’t get up and do public presentations. I was very shy and had a hard time with all that. The guys that could do it were promoted and made associates of the firm.

I was productive, but they weren’t promoting me. In hindsight I think they felt that I was angry. I went through a period where I was always angry and they didn’t know what to do with that. They wanted me to be happy and I couldn’t be, I couldn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable even though I often got to work with Victor very closely, and with Rudy Baumfeld, and Edgardo Contini, people who I adored and respected.

The office had people like Fred Usher, Marion Sampler, Gere Kavanagh, Kip Stewart, Greg Walsh, and John Gilchrest. It was a place that was interested in art and culture and design. Some of them came out of the Eames office. There was a lot of energy and it felt good. It was a very vibrant group and Rudy loved it, he loved all the younger people, as did Victor. They all used the energy of it, they loved the meetings and would have evening parties, inviting all of us. They were us and we were them. But then it became corporate because they weren’t making money I suppose. Suddenly all of us were marginalized for these manager types, so I decided it was time to go.
I see a great watershed between the earlier and later parts of your career, when you went from straight, angular, diagonal—linear skewed geometries—to compound asymmetrical curves. That was a huge change.

Well, what ushered in that change was more what happened in the design world. People had turned to postmodernism, so all my friends were doing historicist buildings. Venturi, Johnson, Graves, Moore—I always considered them important friends, people I loved very dearly. But I was pissed off that they were going backwards. We’ve just gone through the modern thing, and before that the Beaux Arts, now do we have to go back to the Beaux Arts just because the architecture curator at the Museum of Modern Art decided that it’s time to go back?

This made me angry, and I thought, “If you’re going to go back, then go back 300 million years before man, to fish.” That’s when I started to realize the forms. Earlier, in the Norton Simon House, I was trying to create a sense of movement because he had a Shiva dancing figure on his dining-room table, and you’d look at it and turn around, and you’d swear it had moved! It was made of bronze and had a sense of movement. I was trying to capture that in wood with a tumbling trellis, but he said, “This looks like it’s your unfinished symphony.” I protested: “But Norton, Schubert died, and I’m still going strong.”

I kept searching for that motion and one day started looking at fish. They were architectural to me and had movement—that’s when I did the big wooden GFT Fish in Italy, the “kitsch” fish I call him. Standing beside it you felt the movement of the tail. So I asked how much of this kitsch stuff can you cut off and make abstract, yet still get the sense of movement? That’s when I did lead-clad fish for the Walker Art Center and for Jay Chiat in Venice, continuing to develop the forms and began to understand how to do it. Finally, I used the computer to help me—that’s when I cut loose.

Clearly, doing these curvilinear forms by hand limited how far you could go.
Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. If you were to think of Erich Mendelssohn with his beautiful drawings, he couldn’t do it. If he had the computer these things would have been easy. When you look at the Einstein Tower, you realize how incredible that is.

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?

The turning point was the spiral staircase at the Vitra Furniture Museum. I drew it using descriptive geometry, but since there was a kink in it, the contractors couldn’t build it from my drawings, so that’s when I asked the people in the office, “Isn’t there a way to describe it digitally?” They took us to IBM, who took us to Dassault [creators of the CATIA], and that’s how it happened. In the end I had to build a company around it so they could serve me and now the company is doing other people’s work, and so it spun off into something totally independent.

Your two greatest monuments have arguably been Bilbao and Disney Hall. Obviously you’ve done a lot of other work. One favorite of mine was the New York Guggenheim on the East River in the Financial District.

Yeah, but that was never real. I knew you couldn’t build out over the water there. The Corps of Engineers would never allow it.

What impressed me about that project was its immense scale. More recently it’s struck me that Disney Hall and Bilbao are not just radically different form departures, but also represent a major jump in scale for you—not physical scale so much as aesthetic scale. They’re very monumental but still very accessible. They’re not off-putting. The first time I visited Disney, I rounded a corner and saw it all at once. I thought, “My God, how did he do that?” It was immense and looming like a mountain range, yet was also something very intimate, very human-scaled, even friendly. How do you do that?

You’ve got to want to do it, consciously.

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

Well, if you look at antiquity it’s possible. Great buildings of the past had it. Borromini did it, Bernini did it.

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

I know, but that’s the point. By using the sense of movement you replace the details.

That’s a major insight.

That’s why I did the whole thing with the fish and then moved into this, because once I understood how to characterize movement at a big scale then I knew I had something. I could play with it, and I let it evolve, that’s all. It was a real breakthrough for me.

But during the design process, even working with really big models, how do you make that jump? How do you know what it’s really going to be like at full scale? Is it a leap of faith or can you actually visualize it that precisely?

No, I visualize it because we make models at several scales, which forces me to shift scale. It makes me think, “Real.” So I don’t let the model become the object of desire. I continually challenge myself about that, to keep myself in “real scale.” It’s worked for me a lot. And then we also build full-scale mockups of parts of the building before I “print it,” so to speak.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that idea because during that same period, Michael Graves had the great trouble with it, and we’d talk about it. The drawings were beautiful and a lot of my colleagues’ drawings were beautiful, the models were beautiful, but then the building didn’t deliver. I do lots of drawings, too. They are exciting to people because they’re so scribbly and free, but the important thing is to deliver that feeling to the final building. You have to focus on it and want to do it, you can’t just let it happen. You have to really control it from beginning to end.

Looking back on your work, which projects do you like the best and which have been especially significant to your development? Let’s consider residences.

They allow freedom because they were easier to play with—the scale is easier. The Smith House, a little addition to the first house I did [in 1959], that let me do my first “still life” village. Then the house for the filmmaker where I separated the pieces and you had to go outside to go to the bathroom—that kind of thing. But I was thinking of production houses then—tract houses—and got the idea of separate pieces so you could put the shapes in the computer, and somebody could pick four shapes and then, on the computer, place them on their lot. They could be mass-produced and delivered to your site. I still think it’s a good idea, but nobody did it. 

That all came out of houses, and it led to the still-life strategy that I’ve used in many buildings. It’s present in a lot of things, not so much in Bilbao and Disney but many other projects use that idea. But I don’t like doing houses because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for society. Although it’s nice doing it for a friend. I even have trouble doing it for myself because it gets into closets and things like that. I played with it over and over—after 60 versions I gave up.

Which other unrealized commissions do you most wish had been built?

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn—I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are projects underway that are being threatened, and may not be completed. That would be devastating to me. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles is also on hold.

But now we’re working on the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, and that’s exciting. It’s a pretty big building, bigger than Disney Hall.

Do you feel some need to adjust to age now that you’re hitting 80? Will you give up playing hockey?
Well, I gave that up a couple of years ago. I had a back operation and I was having trouble.

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

I talk about that, but in fact I don’t, and now I’m more excited. I guess you might say I’m Obama-ized—watching him before Congress last night was amazing. It’s not about black or white anymore, it’s about how he’s a real president. He’s the real thing and what he’s talking about is a new revolution in technology—I’m really excited about that. The world’s energy concerns can lead to new architectural models, and not just by that part of the profession that’s using it to get business, putting on their Boy Scout uniforms and doing terrible buildings in the name of “greening.” Now there’s finally traction on this issue, and it’s become something that clients are asking for. We’ve tried it for years and nobody would pay for it—they just wouldn’t do it.
So you’re sensing a change in that perception.

I really think there is. What Obama is talking about is certainly going in that direction. There’s a lot of technology out there. I was recently called by somebody asking if I could play with new materials that could become photovoltaic. I said yes, and I’ve been very interested in it.

I can see you experimenting with that and having a lot of fun, so you’re in no danger of burn out there.

No, I’m not going to go there at all, and I’m having fun with the young people in the office. The only problem I’m dealing with is how do I exit. What do I leave here, and should I worry about it?

You’ve cut back on staff size—what was the peak?

About 250, about a year and a half ago. We were doing Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, they were big staffs, 40 to 50 people each. Now we’re at about 120 to 125.
Will you keep shrinking until the economy improves?

No, I think we’re pretty steady there unless Abu Dhabi were to stop. You never know about that. I’m doing a Guggenheim museum there with Tom Krens and it’s really exciting to work with him.

Placeholder Alt Text

Built for the People of the United States
The Triborough Bridge was built in 1936 with $44.2 million from the Public Works Administration.
Jet Lowe/Courtesy Library of Congress

In 1931, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat in on a roundtable conversation with the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, RPAA members including Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, and Clarence Stein presented the future president with a powerful argument that fallout from the economic collapse of 1929 might be best attacked by following a “new road” of regional planning at a national scale. The governor seemed sympathetic to their ideas, and helped MacKaye launch his ambitious plans for the Appalachian Trail, which began in New York State.

Two years later, when FDR began the historic 100 days of legislation that kicked off the New Deal, the RPAA’s lobbying seemed to have paid off. Roosevelt placed MacKaye in a planning position with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and selected Stein’s partner, Robert Kohn, as the first head of the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA). But while the RPAA’s progressive goals were embodied in these programs, as the New Deal wore on, its idealism and the scale of its ambition became muddled through political compromises.


The Greenbelt Town program, which was supposed to change the face of America with a series of highly rational garden cities, was whittled down to three small projects. And the TVA’s initial steps toward creating a “dynamic regional and interregional economy” were soon shed by its director, Arthur Morgan, who steered the authority toward becoming merely a source of electricity for the industrializing south. This tension—between those with plans to use government action and money to transform the country and those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach focused purely on temporary job creation—is very much alive today as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) works its way through Congress. Like today’s stimulus package, the New Deal started as a jobs-creation program, but it gave rise to profound changes in the landscape and culture that were a natural outgrowth of the era’s newfound belief in the federal government’s ability to play a transformational role. As we debate what many call “the New New Deal,” the lessons of the 1930s remind us that a focus on job creation need not preclude a commitment to the broader progressive agenda that made the New Deal so far-reaching.

The New Deal’s largest and best-known agency, the one that became synonymous with the entire program, was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Enacted in 1935, it received more money and attention than any other of the Roosevelt administration’s initiatives. By 1941, the WPA had spent approximately $11.4 billion ($169 billion in today’s money). Of this massive investment, $4 billion went to highway and street projects; $1 billion to public buildings; $1 billion to publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion that funded initiatives as varied as school lunch programs, the famous Federal Writers Project, and sent photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans out to document the American landscape. By the time it was disbanded by Congress in 1943 as a result of the manufacturing boom created by World War II, the WPA had provided some eight million jobs and had left its mark on nearly every community in America by way of a park, bridge, housing project, or municipal building.

in 1935, the Public works administration allocated $5 million for the original brooklyn college campus.
courtesy brooklyn college

The magnitude of the change created by the WPA’s modernization program was unprecedented among direct federal interventions, and the current recovery bill has the potential to be as, or more, effective. At this writing, ARRA promises $825 billion in economic stimulus, $275 billion of which is tax cuts and $550 billion of which is actual investment. Much of this $550 billion will go to construction projects to bring America’s flagging schools, health care facilities, and infrastructure up to standard and beyond. A recent analysis of the bill from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the following run-down on infrastructure spending: $30 billion for highways, $9 billion for transit, $1.1 billion for Amtrak, $10 billion for science facilities, $3 billion for airports. The list goes on, including appropriations for clean water and restoration of brownfields, but also money for other architecture-related building work: $16 billion for school modernization, $9 billion for Department of Defense projects like VA hospitals and child care centers, and $2.25 billion for rehabilitating public housing.

While the rough balance of funds in the current bill and the WPA evinces a kinship, they will be disbursed in a very different fashion. Harry Hopkins, FDR’s handpicked director of the WPA, worked directly with the states to evaluate and select projects. Other agencies, such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), also had their own directors, their own budgets, and the power to choose how best to spend them. The money in the current stimulus package will be apportioned to the states not through newly created agencies based in D.C.— as was the case in the 1930s—but by existing formulas. These formulas evaluate the needs of various localities by calculating factors that range from demographics, to income levels, to official reports on structures and efficiencies. The formulas have the benefit of distributing funds by objective measures rather than political ones, as goes one criticism of the WPA. However, these measures change little from year to year, and a formula-based system has done little to address infrastructure failings at a regional or even national scale.

the 1940 segment of manhattan's east river drive, sketched by hugh ferriss, received a pwa grant for $4.8 million.
from east river drive (federal works agency. 1940)

What has not changed between now and then is the imperative to choose projects that are ready to start construction immediately. What we might call “shovel-ready” projects were a big part of the WPA agenda, and there were a number of regional plans in place, notably those developed by Robert Moses in New York, that captured an enormous share of federal funds. By 1936, New York City was receiving one seventh of the WPA allotment for the entire country, employed 240,000 people with this money, and was considered “the 49th state” within the WPA. Meanwhile other municipalities floundered in their attempts to draw up plans, and the WPA canceled more than 100 major grants to 11 northeast cities because the blueprints for those projects were not ready. Today’s analog is the “Use it or Lose it” provision in the bill that demands the return of funds if they are not put to work within 120 days. Because of this urgency, many are wary that we will spend $100 billion filling potholes.

There are a few significant projects in New York that promise to make a real difference to the region. One is Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC tunnel, which will improve transportation between New Jersey and Manhattan. East Side Access, a project that will do the same thing for commuters coming from Long Island, is already under construction, but in dire need of funds. The same can be said for the MTA’s 2nd Avenue Subway project. And then there’s the Fulton Street Transit Center, which promised to become a central element of downtown’s redevelopment before the MTA’s own parlous financial situation put it in jeopardy. These projects, which stand to receive substantial stimulus funding, will undoubtedly improve transportation in the New York region and lay the groundwork for increased demand in the future. But what about transportation between New York and Boston, or New York and Chicago? What about developing a framework for wind power in the tri-state area? What about a comprehensive plan for regional watershed management?

the new deal's heroic ambition is exemplified by the tennessee valley authority's norris dam, completed in 1936.

There is no agency to think about the changing infrastructure needs of the country as a whole. In 2007, a bill was put forth to do just this: The Infrastructure Investment Bank Act would have established a national institution to evaluate project proposals and assemble investment portfolios to pay for them, much like the World Bank does on a global level. The fact that it did not pass Congress speaks to a reluctance in the U.S. to put planning power in the hands of the federal government—the same reluctance that the RPAA came up against in the 1930s.

One of Roosevelt’s first acts of the New Deal, an act some say he first mentioned at that RPAA roundtable meeting in Virginia, was the creation of the TVA. This ambitious project targeted the poorest part of the country, the one hardest hit by the Depression, and took it upon itself to modernize and reinvigorate it. Through a comprehensive regimen of education and infrastructure building—including the construction of 29 hydroelectric dams and even the building of one town—the TVA turned this rural backwater into the nation’s biggest producer of electricity, and one of the backbones of mobilization during WWII. Though it faced determined opposition, and proposals to implement similar regional plans were shot down across the country, the TVA stands as a high water mark.

After the Interstate Highways Act of 1956, the federal government covered 90 percent of costs for road construction, like the 1963 Alexander Hamilton Bridge.
Jack Boucher/COurtesy Library of Congress

The only time in American history that the federal government has been able to enact a national plan was through the Federal Highway Act of 1956, a project whose skeleton was drafted by the NRA during the Depression. While many today dispute the merit of this program, it is instructive to note that the only way Eisenhower was able to sell the highway act to the country was by declaring it vital to national security.

Today we face not nuclear Armageddon but a danger that could, in the long run, prove all the more crippling: our national infrastructure on the brink of collapse. It seems time to draft our own “new road,” one designed not just to pull us out of economic crisis, but also to lay the groundwork that will carry us undiminished into the future.