I won’t make this about weak Democrats or evil Republicans, or even about Trumpism. As an architect and someone concerned about the environment, nothing could be more obvious to me than the need to rebuild America’s infrastructure, manufacturing capacity, educational system, and financial regulations to benefit everyone in our society. Could our leaders fashion a positive agenda from these pressing needs? Of course, and here’s a start:

  1. Create an infrastructure bank and tax breaks for corporations in the building industry to get our infrastructure back to where it was in the 1950s–the best in the world.
  2. Empower architects and engineers by funding the repair and rebuilding of government owned buildings, highways, railways, and other infrastructure, using taxpayer dollars, not private capital.
  3. Underwrite education in design, building, and technology to train the people to do these kinds of jobs.
  4. Create apprenticeships for inner city youth and young adults in the building trades, providing good jobs for years to come.
  5. Create manufacturing enterprise zones in rust belt cities like Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, East St. Louis, and Camden, NJ and invite tech companies to relocate in these towns.
  6. Rewrite the tax code to create incentives for companies to keep their manufacturing in U.S. cities in need of a boost.
  7. Direct the education department to address the gaps on high school STEM literacy.
  8. Get secondary schools back into vocational education so that young adults gain hand skills in industry and building trades. Use internships and on-the-job training in partnership with the corporate world.
  9. Push colleges and universities to broaden their scope to include more training in trades and industry, including agriculture.
  10. Create incentives for banks to lend money for infrastructure and construction, and dissuade them from pushing risky hedge funds and junk bonds. Enact strict regulations that force Wall Street to support the manufacturing and construction sectors.

Why don’t our political leaders–in Congress, the White House, the states and municipalities–talk about solving concrete problems like these? It’s time to ask the right questions and demand persuasive answers.

A Twist of Fate

March 6, 2009

Previous posts concerning the folly of the New York Public Library’s $250 million dollar expansion plans have proved prophetic. Yesterday’s New York Times front page featured a report on the library’s failed attempt to sell its popular Donnell Library on 53rd Street to a developer who planned to demolish the building for yet another luxury retail, restaurant and hotel tower. Without the inflow of cash from the sale the library may not be able to follow through on its foolish scheme to have Norman Foster gut and redesign the center of Carrere & Hastings’ masterpiece on 42nd Street. Foster’s office announced a layoff of 350 staff, or 1/3 of its employees, as reported in the latest issue of Architectural Record.

Fate plays tricks on both the common folk and the high and mighty. The 10-year boom in expensive, high-rise construction throughout the globe is coming to an end, and architects like Foster, who benefited from the hubris of bigwigs throughout the world, have felt the pinch. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, or for his Arab, Chinese, Turkish, American, German and English clients. Thomas Hastings, the architect of the old library, may be chuckling from beyond the grave. He warned New Yorkers of the disastrous loss of community and urban coherence that would come from constructing tall buildings, and little good to say about modernism. Once again an economic downturn is proving good for preservation. A great building may escape unscathed.