On President Donald Trump’s birthday, New York City artists held performances inside Trump Tower’s not-so-secret public gardens to issue a call-to-arms against the White House's proposed budget cuts to arts funding. The performances, which took place earlier today, are part of a rising trend where activists now use Trump Tower’s public gardens as spaces for political activism. The gardens and atriums inside Trump Tower were a part of Trump’s 1979 agreement with the city, which led to the creation of 15,000 square feet worth of public space in exchange for a zoning variance to build an additional 20 stories. The agreement also stipulated that these privately-owned public spaces (POPS) be accessible to the public from 8 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. “Today in an act of resistance, we take back what is rightfully ours, the public space inside Trump Tower, and use the power of art to protest this administration,” said New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who is also chair of the committee on cultural affairs. “There is an assault on the arts, culture, and thinking in this country right now.” Trump’s budget proposes eliminating federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “We gather as artists and citizens to celebrate our country's commitment to the freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas between all people,” said Lucy Sexton, an artist at the event. Performers used art as a way to cover a wide range of subjects that have been topics of hot conversation in Trump’s administration, including climate change and Russia. Trump himself was also a topic of interest, in performances like Brick x Brick, where participants wore brick-patterned jumpsuits adorned with statements of misogynistic violence made by Trump. The performance was a way to “demonstrate disdain to Trump’s policies,” according to Caterina Bartha, the event’s curator, adding that it was “a gift to New Yorkers who attended the free performance and a call to people across the country to fight to save the arts from Trump’s axe.”
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Speaking at the U.S. Department of Transportation, President Donald Trump has iterated his eagerness to swiftly implement a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. "One of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure—and that is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build," he said at the department last week. Trump wants the speed up the approval process of improving highways are other U.S. infrastructure. According to the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Report for 2015-2016, the U.S. ranks 11th globally for infrastructure, yet is third overall for economic competitiveness. The report also stated that the of "most problematic factors for doing business" in the U.S., inadequate supply of infrastructure was the source of 5.2 percent of the problems. Over the course of a decade, The White House proposes spending $200 billion of federal money as part of the trillion-dollar public-private partnership. The President also said how the White House is pressing on with "massive permit reform," forming a new council that will supposedly streamline and eliminate red tape when dealing with infrastructure projects. "This Council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process," Trump said, as reported by Reuters. He continued, adding that any federal agency that "consistently delays projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties. We will hold the bureaucracy accountable." Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is also reaching out the public for comment and advice for other changes the Trump administration can make to reduce delays in infrastructure approval. On that note, Trump, according to Reuters, cited the infrastructure of old and reminded everyone of his taste for Keynesian-style economics. It took "four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam—but today it can take 10 years just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project," he lambasted. The President, meanwhile, displayed his distaste for the "16 different approvals involving ten different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes," needed when applying for infrastructure permits.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged 15 million dollars to the United Nations (UN) to combat climate change, filling the gap left by President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. The funds will support the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretariat, "including its work to help countries implement their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change," Bloomberg Philanthropies said in a statement. "Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement; just the opposite—we are forging ahead," Michael Bloomberg said. Bloomberg’s sentiment is echoed by The United States Conference of Mayors, who have vowed to continue their fight at the local level despite the shenanigans in Washington. “The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a strong proponent of the need to address climate change and we support the Paris agreement, which positions the world's nations, including the United States, to be energy independent, self-reliant, and resilient,” stated Phoenix, Arizona Mayor Greg Stanton who is also Chair of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Environment Committee. “A thriving economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are compatible by focusing on new technology, investing in renewable fuel sources, and increasing our energy efficiency,” the group said in a statement. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued the following: “President Trump can turn his back on the world, but the world cannot ignore the very real threat of climate change. This decision is an immoral assault on the public health, safety and security of everyone on this planet. New Yorkers are already experiencing hotter summers, more powerful storms and rising seas, which disproportionately affect already vulnerable communities. On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honor the goals of the Paris agreement with an Executive Order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come.” USCM Energy Chair New Bedford (MA) Mayor Jon Mitchell added: "The solutions to climate change present economic opportunities in clean energy, efficient technology, and low-carbon products and services, all of which can create jobs in the United States. U.S. mayors have committed their cities to address climate change and will continue to do so."
One Journal Square, a mixed-use development designed by global architecture firm Woods Bagot, has been put under the microscope as the project’s developer, Kushner Companies, seeks funding through the controversial EB-5 investor visa program. The Jersey City development has been hit with turmoil recently, with its main tenant, WeWork, backing out and taking several million dollars of tax breaks with them, as well as potentially losing a major chunk of cash ($30.4 million in city bonds, to be precise) and a 30-year tax abatement to boot, according to Bloomberg News. Kushner Companies, like many developers, has turned to Chinese investors to garner funds, specifically $150 million of the $1 billion budget, utilizing the EB-5 investor visa program. The EB-5 program, more formally known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a way to spur investment into rural communities and communities struggling with high unemployment rates. The gist is that a foreign investor can invest a minimum of $500,000 to $1 million in a business that will employ at least ten American workers, and, in exchange, they will receive a U.S. visa, which can turn into permanent residency for the investor and their family. The program was developed to spur growth in downtrodden communities, however, the program has become a loophole for developers to fund luxury projects, claiming nearby neighborhoods struggling with unemployment in order to qualify their luxury developments for the program. Then all they have to do is sell visas to wealthy foreigners in exchange for ‘cheap money.’ The number of visas issued through the EB-5 program has increased dramatically in recent years, from a meager 64 visas in 2003 to nearly 9,000 visas issued in 2015, according to The New York Times. Of those 9,000, approximately 80 percent were to Chinese investors, according to The Washington Post. Despite the increase in growth, a report by the Government Accountability Office in 2015 suggests the program is at high risk for fraud and has no reliable means of verifying sources of funds (like that one time invested funds were linked to several Chinese brothels). Although the EB-5 program itself is no stranger to scandals (for example, a member of Iranian intelligence utilized the program to obtain a visa), there is no doubt that much of this particular scandal comes from the company in question’s ties to a particular senior adviser to the White House (that would be Jared Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump and former chief executive of Kushner Companies). Only one day before Kushner’s sister spoke to investors in Beijing about One Journal Square, saying the project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” President Trump signed an extension to the EB-5 program as part of his Omnibus bill, raising many eyebrows. Although there is no evidence that Kushner or his sister have done anything illegal or in direct violation of any ethics codes, the controversy surrounding One Journal Square has drawn a lot of attention to the conflict-of-interest concerns floating around President Trump’s White House, as well as the ongoing debate about the future of the EB-5 program and what that means for luxury developers. Despite the scandal and struggle to find funds, however, One Journal Square is still set to begin construction early next year. Stay tuned.
President Donald Trump’s new $4.1 trillion budget, released on Tuesday, May 23, calls for the defunding of several domestic federal agencies, including the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment of Humanities (NEH), as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The budget, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” redirects these funds to increased military spending, as well as more robust border security systems and the initial construction costs for U.S.-Mexico border wall (currently estimated at $1.6 million). Although the budget still has to be approved by Congress, and will definitely face opposition there, the NEA and NEH are looking ahead to respond to the potential severe reductions to both agencies. As of 2016, the NEA’s budget of $147 million only constituted .004 percent of the federal budget. The NEA uses that money to fund thousands of nonprofits, arts initiatives, and research that supports the arts, especially with regard to education—often its budget is used to directly help states fund their art programs. The NEH offers grants that are awarded to museums, archives, libraries, etc. Both agencies were established in 1965 and have aided the arts and humanities education for the American public. The NEA and NEH have submitted requests for 2018 that detail the costs required to shut down; you can find the report in full here. The report estimates that the combined cost to close down the agencies will be $71 million, nearly 25 percent of the total annual budget of $300 million. These funds would be used to support the employees working for the agencies, as well as real estate, equipment, contracts, grant commitments, and management. The NEA currently has a staff of 155 but would have to cut this amount in half by March 2018. The NEH’s chairman, William Adams, resigned Monday and acting chair Margaret Plympton will dismantle the agency. The Architect's Newspaper reached out to the NEA asking about what this means for the NEA and received the following statement:
The NEA is fully funded in FY 2017 and continues to make FY 2017 grant awards and honor all obligated grant funds made to date. The President’s FY 2018 budget proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, with a request for $29 million intended to be used for the orderly shutdown of the agency. This budget request is a first step in a very long budget process. We continue to accept grant applications for FY 2018 at our usual deadlines and will continue to operate as usual until a new budget is enacted by Congress.If you would like to oppose these budget cuts in Congress, please contact your local senator and ask them to save the NEA and NEH. Guidelines for this outreach can be found here. The NEA also provided these documents on its Appropriations Request For Fiscal Year 2018 and the Appropriations Process (the budget is currently at step one of thirteen).
This is really happening. Late last year Chicago-based New World Design proposed Flying Pigs on Parade: A Chicago River Folly, an installation of four golden flying pigs directly in front of the Trump sign on the Trump International Hotel and Tower. After receiving permission from Roger Waters, co-founder, bassist, and lead songwriter of Pink Floyd, New World Design will reproduce the same pig used for the iconic Pink Floyd photo shoot over Battersea Park Power Station, London, for the Animals album cover. This time the pigs will be gold. The helium-filled balloons will then be floated, single file, from a construction barge in the Chicago River at just such a height to obscure the 20-foot-by-141-foot Trump sign. The single day installation is expected to be launched in late August or early September. The pigs hold multiple meanings and make a number of pop culture references, most clearly to the 1977 Pink Floyd album cover and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Other references include Trump’s alleged “Miss Piggy” comment directed at a former Miss Universe and the gold so often used in Trump’s interior design. "The design follows meticulous rationale in imparting layers of meaning but ultimately allows for interpretation by individual viewers," said Jeffrey Roberts, partner at New World Design. The Trump Tower has become a lightning rod for protest since the election. The base of the tower has been the site of multiple peaceful demonstrations, and the Honorary Trump Plaza sign, which marked Wabash Avenue in front of the tower, was removed some months ago. On any given day, tourists can be seen across the river taking selfies of themselves giving the building the middle finger. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, another consequence of Trump’s lack of popularity in Chicago has been slowed condo sales. Currently, over 50 condos in the Tower are on the market. That is nearly three times that of any similar tower in the city. “We are a small group of designers creating visual commentary on the inflammatory nature of our current political environment. We are not radicals. We see design as our path to building and reinforcing a community of more rational, optimistic and inclusive minds,” said Roberts. The pigs and the protests are all happening in a public way, peacefully. So it would seem that the targeting of the tower by scornful Chicagoans is not going to stop anytime soon. Not even when pigs fly.
To those architects itching to build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall: Maybe try again in September. According to preliminary reports, a forthcoming $1 trillion congressional budget deal to fund the continued operation of the federal government will strike a blow to several of the President’s key campaign promises, leaving controversial proposals like funding a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a long-touted $1 trillion infrastructure package, and the threatened de-funding of so-called “sanctuary cities” unfulfilled. Instead, the bill includes roughly $1.5 billion in new border security spending earmarked mostly for repairs and technological upgrades of existing elements, among other items. That amount is far less than the roughly $70 billion needed, according to a recent report by Democratic staff of the U.S. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The report, released last week in anticipation of this week’s contentious funding negotiations, is not kind to the wall effort and cites that the review process for proposals submitted in late March is already behind schedule. AZ Central reports that the estimated $70 billion would cover only the construction costs and does not include the cost of land acquisition along the border necessary in order to build the wall or the cost of maintenance for the structure once—really, if— it is built. The reported $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill is another short-term casualty of budgetary negotiations. The Hill reports that congressional leaders had originally planned to fund new infrastructure spending by imposing a reduced tax on companies that repatriate earnings currently held overseas back to the United States. The solution was thought to have bipartisan support, but those efforts seem to be falling apart: A recently-issued one-page tax reform outline presented by the President did not specify how the money would be spent and congressional Republicans fear Democratic support for the bill would falter due to grassroots political pressure aimed at stalling the President’s agenda. The forthcoming budget agreement, however, has maintained a certain amount of funding for mass transit initiatives in Democratic-leaning states, including $100 million of the requested $650 million needed to modernize and electrify California’s Caltrain network. The proposal also fulfills funding promises for two extensions of Los Angeles’s Purple Line subway extension, improvements for New York City’s L Train, and a new light rail extension in Denver, Colorado. Congressional leaders must pass their proposed spending bill by May 5th in order to avert a government shutdown. Budget negotiations will ramp back up again over the summer in advance of the start of the new fiscal year on September 6, 2017.
[3/29/2017 — UPDATE: Anbang backs out of negotiations to redevelop 666 Fifth via The Real Deal] Plans to convert the existing building at 666 Fifth Avenue, a long-idled development project owned by Kushner Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, might yet see the light of day as foreign investors indicate their interest in financing the tower. Kushner Companies was led by son-in-law to President Donald Trump and former CEO Jared Kushner until mid-January when he relinquished his control over the company and formally divested his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue. Though some have questioned the significance of these measures to sever himself from the project, Kushner will purportedly no longer have a formal role as it moves forward and will recuse himself if any conflict-of-interest should arise. Yet, Kushner’s precarious web of financial entanglements could potentially haunt him. Shortly before his departure from his family's business, Kushner negotiated investment talks with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese company shrouded by opaque ownership and known associations with the Chinese state. In a report by 6sqft, sources say that Anbang has been involved in “advanced talks to provide as much as half of the $2.5 billion in equity for the planned redevelopment.” Though the company has denied it is a stakeholder in the 666 Fifth Avenue project, the deal seems to support its growing portfolio of real estate investments in New York City as they are also the owners of nearby Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The building will require a substantial redesign of the existing structural core to accommodate an additional 40 stories, a task to be resolved by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) which recently circulated a rendering of the ambitious 1,400-foot-tall tower. ZHA has been signed up for the project since 2015 and later this year will wrap construction on its first project in New York City, a residential building adjacent to the High Line. If all goes as intended, demolition will begin in 2019 with a desired completion by 2025.
This morning, some fifty people gathered outside Trump Tower's fifth-floor public terrace to protest proposals from New York Governor Cuomo and President Trump that would affect affordable and public housing in New York. The event was organized by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, two grassroots coalition groups that draw support from a range of New York City tenant organizations, labor unions, not-for-profits, and advocacy groups. giving back to the public. Recently, they've become a venue for protestors to gather at the heart of President Trump's most prominent development.
Protesters are being told that Building Security has the terrace locked down because it's icy and for public safety. #TeachTrump pic.twitter.com/YHndVtN4vX — Architects Newspaper (@archpaper) March 20, 2017This time, however, the fifth-floor terrace was closed due to reported icy conditions. To this reporter's eyes, it was a plainly flimsy excuse. (The four-floor terrace is still closed due to construction, according to a sign outside its entrance.) Civil rights attorney Samuel B. Cohen was on hand to speak to Trump Tower staff and inquire about the space's closure. Just like a sidewalk or any other public space, he told the crowd, Trump Tower has an obligation to clear the space for public use. Regardless, the teach-in continued, as the NYPD did not express safety concerns about the crowd.
Over the course of approximately 45 minutes, protestors spoke out against Governor Cuomo's proposed renewal of the 421-a tax break, which is designed to spur the development of multi-unit buildings on vacant land. Tom Waters, housing policy analyst from the Community Service Society, said 421-a was a product of the 1970s, an era when the city was in dire straits. "Those times are over," he said, adding that 421-a would create far more value for developers than for the public. Waters also spoke out against a new provision in the bill that extends 100 percent tax-exempt status for certain new affordable developments from 25 to 35 years, a move which could generate further profits for developers.
Lawyer Sam Cohen with an update: Legally the space should be cleared of snow and open. pic.twitter.com/cc3QiDDlpM— Architects Newspaper (@archpaper) March 20, 2017
Teach-in is happening nevertheless, with advocacy groups and grassroots organizations, just outside the public terrace. #TeachTrump pic.twitter.com/e1GP9R0R1J — Architects Newspaper (@archpaper) March 20, 2017Waters also explained that Trump Tower itself was a product of 421-a tax exemptions when it was built; according to The New York Times the project received "an extraordinary 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million to date in forgiven, or uncollected, taxes, with four years still to run, on a property that cost only $120 million to build in 1980." After being initially denied 421-a exemptions for Trump Tower, Trump successfully sued the city, and he later won 421-a exemptions for his Trump World Tower under the Guiliani and Bloomberg administrations in a similar fashion. Massive cuts to federal housing programs were an equal source of ire: According to a press release issued by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, President Trump's proposed budget reduces federal housing funds by 13 percent. Those cuts "are expected to strain public housing programs and axe $75 million in federal funding from the New York City Housing Authority, the agency that manages public housing in NYC," the groups said. The Community Service Society estimates that Governor Cuomo's proposed 421-a program would "cost NYC taxpayers $2.4 billion annually and yield minimal affordable housing units in return." In the face of federal cuts, Jawanza Williams of VOCAL NY urged New York State to take a more aggressive stance to fill in the gaps and create its own robust health care and public housing systems; he also argued that 421-a would "only exacerbate gentrification." Claudia Perez of advocacy group Community Voices Heard added her thoughts in a question to those assembled: "Will you help me fight against the developer-in-chief? Now more than ever, New York must protect NYCHA." "We're calling on Cuomo to realize these $2 billion in cuts are more Trumponian than Trump," said New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams at the protest. "So if [Cuomo] wants to run for president, if he wants to be a champion of saying what New York City is going to do to push back against these Trumponian cuts, 421-a is not it."
NYC council member Jumaane Williams on 421-a, thanks NYPD for letting this #TeachTrump teach-in happen. pic.twitter.com/EUvPyrvHLp — Architects Newspaper (@archpaper) March 20, 2017
Today AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, released the following statement after reviewing the federal budget proposal issued by the Trump administration. At the forefront of Vonier's concerns are massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) which threaten efforts to address urban growth, community development, and sustainability. Funds that support AIA events and programs would also disappear. "As the budget process continues, we urge the Administration to seek our guidance as leading experts in design and construction," Vonier said, "before cutting the budget in ways that will hurt our communities."
This budget includes many cuts that will have severe long-term ramifications for our communities and economy. It does away with programs that foster a cleaner environment and strong neighborhoods and it eliminates programs with a proven track record of job creation in the design and construction industry. We are concerned about a proposed 31 percent cut in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated. Future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides grants to architecture programs and conferences sponsored by the AIA, is also being cut. The Federal government plays a vital role in promoting community development, performing research into sustainable and high-performing building technologies and techniques, and helping states and cities address congestion and sprawl through innovative grant programs. Drastic cuts to these initiatives impair the work that architecture firms do in our communities. We are ready to protect investments that affect the work we do on behalf of our clients. In fact, almost 800 design and construction businesses Thursday sent a letter coordinated by the AIA to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, calling for the continuation of important programs. And we will echo these calls across all agencies for all of the programs vital to our work. Federal budgets always require making tough choices, and wasteful or ineffective programs should be ended. But this budget's short-term cuts to programs that work will end up costing us much more in the long-term. As the budget process continues, we urge the Administration to seek our guidance as leading experts in design and construction, before cutting the budget in ways that will hurt our communities.
Thirty cities—including New York, L.A., and Chicago—are investing billions in electric vehicles to show doubters (like, uh, our president) that there is indeed a market for fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The $10 billion investment, still in its negotiation stage, is a clear message to the auto industry that there's growing demand for low-emission vehicles, even as President Trump moves to relax pollution standards opposed by the auto industry. The cities reached out to car manufacturers to provide feasibility report on 114,000 electric vehicles, a fleet which, Bloomberg News reports, could include garbage trucks, street sweepers, and police cars. “No matter what President Trump does or what happens in Washington, cities will continue leading the way on tackling climate change,” Matt Petersen, the chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles, told the paper. During a meeting with Big Three executives on Wednesday, the President announced plans to review Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. The heads of General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford all say that the fuel-saving innovations are too expensive to implement and that drivers aren't interested in the technology. A spokesman for an industry trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Bloomberg News that carmakers offer 95 different electric and hybrid vehicles but all those sales are eclipsed by one popular gasoline-powered pickup truck. Despite the industry's claims, the city-led inquiry could boost the electric vehicle market substantially, potentially accounting for almost three-quarters of the electric vehicle sales in the United States. So far, there's interest on the supply side: Almost 40 manufacturers have responded to the request, which is being led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Four cities—Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A.—ordered about 24,000 electric vehicles earlier this year, and since then an additional 26 cities have signed onto the initiative. “Now more than ever there is a need for cities’ leadership on climate,” said Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s senior director of climate policy and programs. “We really want to send a message that there is a growing market for electric vehicles—regardless of what is happening in D.C.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun to amass land along the United States-Mexico border in Texas as the agency makes preparations for the yet to be funded border wall expansion ordered by President Trump. Texas Observer reports that landowners along the border have begun to receive “Declaration of Taking” notices offering cash payouts for land along the border. The DHS letters also threaten the use of eminent domain to take the land if landowners refuse to agree to sell—landowners would still be compensated for their land in the event DHS utilizes eminent domain to acquire the property. The move is potentially controversial because many of the areas that do not already host sections of the existing border wall lie along sensitive or inaccessible terrain. Texas Observer reports the story of local landowner Maria Flores in the community of Los Ebanos near the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande forms part of the border between the U.S. and Mexico and the lands abutting the river were—until recently—protected from any type of new construction due to fears that structures would increase the likelihood of damage to local communities were the river to flood. That changed in 2012 when the American-controlled contingent of the International Boundary and Water Commission that oversees the U.S.-Mexico border area agreed to allow DHS build the wall along the Rio Grande floodplain. See Texas Observer for full text of the Declaration of Taking letter. BREAKING: Department of Homeland Security seeking white papers for “complete physical barrier” with Mexico ADPSR is calling all designers to submit protest proposals for Trump’s border wall The Architecture Lobby calls to resist Trump’s border wall project These architects want to critically engage with Trump’s border wall