A sublime piece of modern architecture, the United Nations Headquarters is a time capsule that preserves almost intact the spirit of the 1950s. From the head sets to the tapestries, which hide the most breathtaking views of Brooklyn and the East River, everything has the air of an early James Bond movie. On May 13th, however, the UN was looking forward to pressing environmental challenges and their urban solutions, as the host of the second part of the "Conference on Sustainable Urbanization in the Information Age," entitled “The Role of Infrastructure in Metropolitan Development.” Speakers from places and realities as diverse as Mexico, Estonia, Spain, Australia, Kenya, and the UK agreed that urban living is the greenest way to live. “Living well is the only sustainability,” concluded New York’s own Rick Bell, Executive Director of the AIA NY chapter, and that seemed to be the motto throughout the sessions. With the world urban population growing at an incredible pace (I was shocked to discover that my home country of Uruguay leads the world ranking with 91 percent of its population living in urban areas) speakers called for responsible planning, emphasizing the usual topics of density, public transport, affordable housing, and sanitation. What was a surprise, though, was the acknowledgment by many officials that governmental and sub governmental systems were inefficient and over regulated, impeding the implementation of better policies. Conflicts of governance and large bureaucracies, along with poor civic engagement and lack of private and public partnerships make it difficult for all these “good intentions” to be put to practice. When our planet is in peril, it is no surprise that major attention should be taken to cities, after all “urban centers are the ticking hearts of civilization,” to use words of Sarbuland Khan, of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies. Also cities are the epicenter of the catastrophic global economic crisis in which we are living, but nevertheless, it is important not to compromise sustainable practices for the sake of reactivating the economy. The US government’s promises to end the economic slump come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure, but the kind of infrastructure we plan will determine the way we live and use the cities of the future, so we must chose responsibly. Keynote speaker Under Secretary-General Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka plead to consider this as an opportunity to instill principles of sustainability into infrastructure development: “The challenge is to integrate economic environmental and social policies to make our cities economically more competitive, ecologically more sustainable and socially more inclusive and gender responsive. It is important to recognize success factors and remove barriers to their replication… we need local action if we are going to achieve global goals.” It is high time we put aside political interests and start acknowledging that these challenges are not part of some dystopian future, but are right around the corner. Let’s just hope those with the power to make these decisions do so wisely.
Posts tagged with "Infrastructure":
We've blogged about the oil infrastructure in and around Houston, Texas, a couple of times: here and here. But we hadn't managed to get a level view of the massive installation until stumbling across ship pilot Louis Vest's time lapse video of a nighttime trip down the Houston Ship Channel aboard a 600-foot-long Panamax tanker. Vest strapped his NIkon D700 camera to an outside rail and programmed it to capture an image every six seconds, documenting a 3 1/2-hour journey cruising at 5 to 10 knots through this gloaming industrial landscape of exhaust stacks, burning lights, and gas flares. Mmmmm... Creamy!
Yesterday, our friends over at Infrastructurist put together this nifty map illustrating the return of the streetcar to American pavement. One thing was conspicuously missing--or rather three things: "our" fair cities New York, LA, and San Francisco. After all, all three have a long tradition of streetcars, and while only one still runs them, albeit for largely touring purposes. Light rail and the like have been tried and proposed, though apparently not at the cost effectiveness of street cars. And there are new subways under construction... oh wait. Which is kind of the point. In an increasingly uncertain (transportation) world, shouldn't every option and ever possibility be on the table? New York, LA, and San Francisco are often heralded for their planning prowess. Well, let them put their money where their mouths are. There's certainly enough of it sloshing around.
Sorry, this post was accidentally erased last week. Finally, the public events for AN's New Infrastructure competition have ended! (there's one more at the AIA/Mobius Conference in June, but that's not exactly public..) The final event- also one of the last at GOOD magazine's space at 6824 Melrose Avenue, which is moving down the street in the coming months (more details to come as they emerge)- included a workshop led by Metro planner James Rojas, in which the audience was asked to build their own transit systems out of found materials like beads, legos, wooden and foam blocks, plastic figures, chess pieces, and much more. The ideas, concocted in just minutes, were stunning in their beauty and creativity, revealing a public desire to make LA's transit systems more efficient, user-friendly, and most of all fun. A few schemes incorporated transit along the LA River, with trains, boats, and (in one case) jet packs running on the along the existing infrastructure. One plan incorporated public plazas around transit stops as well as a system of car and bike sharing to supplement public transit. Another aligned itself along two concentric circles united by a long spine to increase efficiency. And quite a few incorporated green space into the system, changing development to increase park and wildlife space, lowerering auto-friendly space, encouraging local work and production, and reducing the need for transit in the first place. The event also featured an intelligent, and sometimes contentious, panel inspired by the winning designs, and by the future role of transit in LA. Led by design goddess Alissa Walker, its participants included urban designers John Chase and Simon Pastucha, LA METRO officials Rojas and Michael LeJeune, and architect and SCI-Arc Graduate Director Ming Fung. Debates raged over how great a role the public should play in transit decisions and how much power METRO should have in development. But most agreed that planning and transit should be developed together, not on in reaction to each other. Chase and Pastucha have pledged to make their way through all 75 entries to the competition, sorting them by category and culling for the best ideas. Good luck guys!
Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.
First Recovery.gov, now the NYC Stimulus Tracker. Yesterday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the $1.1 billion in new infrastructure spending resulting from the city's cut of the federal stimulus bill, he also announced the creation of a special website to lend transparency to the process, not unlike the model set out by our dear mayor. (Judging by WNYC and ProPublica's Shovelwatch map, though, everyone's getting in on the act, with all but five states and numerous municipalities launching such sites.) There are six projects receiving direct stimulus funding, including $47 million for the repair of the Brooklyn Bridge, $175 million for rehabilition of the St. George Ferry ramps in Staten Island, and the $9.7 million repairs of a dozen roads throughout the five boroughs. The mayor also announced 25 projects that will receive funds allocated at the state level, also known as displaced funds. Below is a list, but for more on both, see the mayor's release. As a whole, he said the projects will create or preserve 32,000 jobs. But to be sure, check the Stimulus Tracker. Individual projects by borough, with amount of stimulus money recieved and expected completion:
- Improvements to Hunts Point, $22 million, Fall 2012
- Reconstruction of Paulding Avenue (Bronxwood), $21 million, Fall 2014
- Reconstruction of the Claremont Parkway Bridge (Bathgate), $7.0 million, Summer 2012
- Reconstruction of the Decatur Ave Retaining Wall (Bedford Park), $7 million, Fall 2011
- Improvements to Hugh Grant Circle (Parkchester), $3.5 million, Summer 2011
- Improvements to Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4.7 million, Summer 2011
- Streetscape Improvements to Flatbush Avenue (Flatbush), $3.5 million, June 2011
- Reconstruction of Nassau Avenue and Monitor Street (Greenpoint), $12.9 million, Fall 2011
- Reconstruction of Coney Island Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
- Reconstruction of Shore (Belt) Parkway East 8th Street Access Ramp (Bath Beach), $14 million, Spring 2011
- Reconstruction of Eastern Parkway (Prospect Heights), $6 million, Spring 2012
- Improvements to Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business District, $7.1 million, Winter 2011
- Replacement of Protective Coating on Steel Structure of Six Belt/Shore Parkway Bridges, $6.8 million, Fall 2011
- Reconstruction of West 125th Street, $1.9 million, Fall 2014
- Reconstruction of East Houston Street, $23.5 million, Fall 2011
- Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase I, $22 million, Spring 2011
- Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase II, $15 million, Spring 2011
- Reconstruction of Rockaway Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
- Reconstruction of College Point / 32nd Avenue, $12 million, Fall 2011
- Replacement of Hillside Avenue Sidewalk (Jamaica), $10 million, Fall 2010
- Extension of 132nd Street / Linden Place Extension, $7 million, Winter 2014
- STATEN ISLAND
- Rehabilitation of 11 Staten Island Railway Bridges, $8.2 million, Summer 2010
- Completion of the St. George Ferry Terminal Retail Area, $6 million, Fall 2009
Our dear friends Mike Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger and their pal Ed Rendell dropped by Washington this weekend, first to visit with President Obama and then, today, Meet the Press. They were in town to promote their two-month old partnership, Building America's Future, which seeks to promote the reconstruction of the nation's aging infrastructure along with its expansion into the future. Details on the White House meeting are scant. Newsday says it lasted an hour, and CBS News reports that the trio had a tripartite message for the president:
[Rendell] said the three men delivered three messages to the president and his team of advisors. One, that the president should take control of the infrastructure debate. Secondly, that a so-called “infrastructure bank” is essential. And three, that all funding possibilities should be explored. [...] "The president gets it," Bloomberg said. "This is about the future of our country. Whether it is transportation or water or other things, we need to invest now so that our children and grandchildren will have a future."According to NY1, there's still much work to be done:
Bloomberg acknowledged that infrastructure projects produce limited immediate jobs, but Schwarzenegger said that vehicular and mass transit systems need bailouts of their own. "We have maybe spent $900 billion to $1 trillion in the next five years, but we really should be spending $2.2 trillion in the next five years in order to keep up with the demand," said California's governor.You can also watch Building For America's press conference from the White House lawn on YouTube. If all that weren't enough, the three shed more light on their ideas during their Meet the Press appearance (transcript here). Rendell put it best:
MR. GREGORY: So, Governor Rendell, first of all, it was Governor Schwarzenegger who said infrastructure's not a very sexy word when it comes to building political will. What are we talking about here? Bridges, roads, what else? GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): Well, it's not just transportation infrastructure. First of all, high-speed rail. This country desperately needs to build a high-speed rail passenger system. We need to improve our rail freight system. But it's not just transportation. It's the levees that failed in Cedar Rapids and New Orleans. It's dams, it's water and wastewater systems. It's so much more. And the message is fairly clear. We started Building America's Future because we think this is about the future. We think it's about generations down the road. And unless we can rebuild our infrastructure, we're not going to be competitive. Unless we can rebuild our infrastructure, our quality of life is going to suffer. Unless we rebuild our infrastructure, things like what happened in Minnesota are going to repeat. MR. GREGORY: Bridge collapse. We took a poll, Building America's Future, and the poll showed the American people are willing pay for infrastructure improvements, pay more taxes, if they believe it'll be done in a nonpolitical way, if the choices made will be good choices based on cost benefit analysis. That was our message to the president. We're willing to support him. We think the infrastructure bank is terrific. We need to do it in a little bit bigger scale.Perhaps the most intriguing part of the group's work is its desire to drive infrastructure expansion through the issuance of bonds and the cultivation of public-private partnerships:
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yes, the amount of stimulus in the--the amount of money in the infrastructure package is a small amount. But Governor Rendell--who deserves all the credit, I think Arnold would agree with me, to putting this organization together--has talked about how you can leverage that money. And today it takes a while to get projects going. This president's willing to face the issues and he's going to have to work with Congress. [...] MR. GREGORY: Right. And we talk about private equity. There's so much money in this economy on the sidelines with nowhere to go and nobody wanting to assume any risk. So if there's this kind of private sector money, how would it work? If they--if private equity or hedge funds want to put up money for a light rail system, fast rail system around the country, what's in it for them? GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, it's a, it's a great investment. I mean, that's what--it's like when you look at British Columbia or other places where they have a public-private partnership, where everyone is happy. Businesses are happy, the people are happy, labor is happy, the politicians are happy. I mean, everyone is happy. We want to do the same thing. We should--the United States should copy that kind of a principle so that you can go out there and build. GOV. RENDELL: There's so many innovative ways to, to use the tax code to get private investment involved in this. There are innovative ways. David, we don't have a capital budget, a federal capital budget. We're the only governmental subdivision in the country without one. You could finance--for $30 billion a year, which these days is not a lot of money, you could finance almost $400 billion to put up front in an infrastructure repair program administered through something like the infrastructure bank.While public-private partnerships have, indeed, been a success in the past, they also pose problems, as recent hitches resulting from the recession have shown. Furthermore, to propose "leveraged," perhaps highly leveraged, deals with the same private equity and hedge fund firms that got us into the mess this infrastructure is supposed to get us out seems suspect. Just imagine what an infrastructure bubble might look like. Probably lots of bridges to nowhere. Where the coalition is headed from here remains to be seen, but if Bloomberg's similar effort, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is any indication--to say nothing of his work reshaping the city's physical culture--it's due for a smashing success.
What do Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Neil Denari, LA Planning director Gail Goldberg, and Aspet Davidian, engineering director at the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have in common? They're all on the jury for The Architect's Newspaper and SCI-Arc's new competition, A NEW INFRASTRUCTURE: Innovative Transit Solutions for Los Angeles. Launching today, the competition takes advantage of LA County's Measure R, which will provide up to $40 billion for transit-related projects across the city over the next 30 years. It asks architects, engineers, urban planners, and students to propose new ideas that use design to dramatically rethink the relationships between transit systems, public space and urban redevelopment. Entries will focus on specific rail extension projects and also take a look at larger-scale, inter-related transit planning challenges. Potential competitors can download the competition outline and registration here. Entries are due March 15, and winners will be announced on March 21.