Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Practical or Spectacular?

More of a question tonight than anything. As we talked about the Dubai Airport over at the film site, we kind of shook our heads at the crappy state of many of our airports. This raises a question: when we build infrastructure projects like bridges, airports, train stations, and the such, should we just build them as cheaply and as practically as possible? Or should we swing for the fences and try to make them into architectural wonders?

Personally, I think aesthetics matter. When people think of America, they think of things like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the monuments in DC, the Miracle Mile and Loop in Chicago, the art-deco section of Miami, the San Francisco Victorian houses, and so on. We think of amazing projects like the Hoover Dam, the stadiums they are building today with incredible engineering which look like glass palaces and have retractable roofs, and of course Vegas. People think of these things because they are powerful images that speak to the character, style and dreams of the residents. They speak to a people who want to make a statement with their buildings.

Indeed, to me, what gives a city its character is its architecture. When you can drive through Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis and not tell where you are, then something has gone wrong. Those cities may be large and prosperous, but they feel boring and lifeless. I want more. I want pride. I want an expression of risk taking, of a people who have one eye on the future. Yes, I do. As Americans, I think we should be showing off our skills. We should show the world what we can achieve and build infrastructure that truly represents the inventive dreamers who populate this country. Our cities should match the creativity and energy of our people, and they should leave our visitors in awe, just as they did in the 1930s and 1940s when the world looked with amazement at the marvels going up all over the country.

Yes, indeed. Yet, there seems to be a strain of thought in conservative circles that resists any discussion of aesthetics when it comes to city-building. I find that to be wrong short-sighted, and I don't see anything inconsistent with being conservative and yet considering the intangible aspects of infra-structure building. Or am I wrong about this? What do you think?


ScottDS said...

Well, when it comes to the political aspect, many conservatives are no doubt weary of all the crap that comes with big construction projects: the union issues, the cronyism, the big bills, etc. It's enough to turn off even the most visionary politician (and they're not exactly in abundance at the moment!).

Take for instance the new PATH hub at the World Trade Center. I've been following it on and off for a year, despite no longer living up there. It's grossly over-budget, overly-designed by an architect known for ostentatious projects, and at the end of the day, it won't serve nearly as many passengers as Grand Central does. The money could've been spent on any number of much-needed subway or PATH extensions.

Tennessee Jed said...

yes, and let us not forget the impact of the eco-weenies. A baby born back when keystone pipeline was first tagged for environmental impact study would now be in elementary school.

To answer the question raised by Andrew more directly, there is always a trade-off between scope of the project, quality and cost.I believe it is almost impossible for taxpayers to get what they pay for from government, and that is reflected by trust in government being at or near all time low. With the national debt passing 18 trillion, I am looking for ways to reduce government spending. That doesn't mean we do not invest in things worthwhile. But unless we can get our government used to becoming expense hawks, and operating with less, I say we forego the big home runs until a time our economy is operating at a higher and more efficient level.

Critch said...

Aesthetics do matter or we end looking like East Germany or Lower Slobovia..Do your best to make it look nice.

EricP said...

Wait a minute. Did the Ferguson mobs extend their temper tantrum to tearing down the Gateway to the West Arch in St. Louis. Know damn well I saw it in the background as the Giants were putting the Cardinals in the NL Championship rearview.

Otherwise, points well taken, and also glad the lake-front downtown renovation Cleveland started 20ish years ago, and now featuring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique look beside the neighboring sports complexes, helped it escape your deserved Columbus slam.

Oh, much love to the Pixburgh designers for transforming its city landscape enough to bring NYC-esque love from the film community. Cleveland did an admirable job subbing for both NYC and DC in The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Solder, too.

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - Funny you should mention the boondoggle that is the WTC transit hub. It has now cost twice what we taxpayers were told it would cost (and counting...) (ballooned from $2billin to $4billion) And it is just butt ugly. It is supposed to be symbolic of a soaring bird in flight (dove of peace?) but it just looks like giant triceratops stuck in tar pit as its location is much too small for "soaring" and is squeezed between two buildings. LINK

Then there's the new Fulton Street Transit Hub that opened up in Nov a block east - though less costly is still 100% over budget. ($750million to $1.4billion).

Both together will create a giant underground Mall. That's okay with me because why on earth would someone want to spend more time in a subway station that is necessary?

I am all for grand projects supported by the taxpayers, but it just seems like there is no responsibility TO the taxpayers to make them stay within an honest budget. I understand that there are unanticipated problems that arise, but how is it possible to be 100% off the mark? If private industry were that budgeting they'd go bankrupt. Our purses are apparently bottomless as it is assumed that government projects do not have to be the least bit responsible.

Btw, Grand Central was built by Vanderbilt family with their own funds. So were the Empire State Building, Woolworth Building and many other iconic buildings in NYC. Central Park and pretty much all the parks were originally built and maintained by private rich people for the masses to enjoy.

Kit said...

"Btw, Grand Central was built by Vanderbilt family with their own funds. So were the Empire State Building, Woolworth Building and many other iconic buildings in NYC. Central Park and pretty much all the parks were originally built and maintained by private rich people for the masses to enjoy."

Bev hits the nail on the head. These were not the result of government acts, they were pushed by private individuals and companies. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building were both the results of a massive ego fight between two rival companies.

It is the free markets and a desire by wealthy, private individuals to have their egos stroked that built these cities.

ScottDS said...

Bev -

Ever since I lived up there, I've been reading the transit blog Second Avenue Sagas. I'm no expert but I find the subject actually quite interesting. As a resident, you may get more from the site more than I do.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, "Lower Slobovia" -- LOL! Well played, sir! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, True, St. Louis does have the arch, but beyond that it really is much like all the other big Midwestern cities -- function over aesthetics, lots of generic buildings.

Good call on Pittsburgh! They have some amazing architecture, though it was largely put in place a long time ago.

I have a lot of respect for things like Cleveland's lake-side cleanup, Baltimore's inner harbor, and other attempts to clean up downtowns and pull middle class people back in from the suburbs.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That is a huge problem. Any sort of big project turns into an over-budget nightmare when the government does it. What they need to do is learn to hire professional construction management companies and tell them to keep it on time and under budget.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The environmentalists have become a huge problem. Not only do they fight every single attempt to build anything, but they have jacked up the costs so high that big, new projects are virtually impossible.

On your other point, that is definitely a valid counter: government wastes too much money, we have better uses for the money. And this has created a real distrust in government which makes it hard to convince people to allow any sort of spending.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I think that's a key to making this work -- there needs to be genuine accountability. That means realistic budgets, people losing their jobs when things go wrong, and much more efficient work.

That is true that many of these buildings were built by private persons. I think the problem today is that environmental laws make it impossible for anyone but the government to do the work.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Sadly, the modern version of that is tech parks, where these companies all build ugly buildings on over-sized lots. And like I told Bev, the problem is things like environmental laws, which make building anything big impossible, and government interference and government terf wars.

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - Ah yes, major public works boondoggle....the famous 2nd Avenue subway line - 86 years in the making and only 30 blocks long...don'

CrisD said...

I like cityscapes. Really enjoy them. But I'll tell you what conservative art appreciators like me get funny about---some of the new designs!!!
The one I can think of off the bat is the Denver Airport-meant to reflect the idea of snowy mountain tops?? Yet looks like cheap canvas??? Just don't get it.

Anthony said...

OT, but big news. The NY cop who choked the guy to death using a move long banned by the NYPD because it tends to kill people skated.

Disappointed but not surprised. Hopefully the protests will be peaceful. Burning down buildings and hurting people wouldn't solve anything.

BevfromNYC said...

Anthony - Fortunately, we are having freezing rain, so maybe that will keep the violent protests to a minimum. Even violent protestors don't like bad weather. And anyway, I think Al Sharpton is either in DC commiserating with Obama about how to burn NYC to the ground with Mayor Diblasio's blessing or he's still in Ferguson making sure that the fires keep burning there.

I am not the least bit surprised by the Grand Jury's decision. Garner was a criminal committing a crime who resisted arrest. It took 4 cops to stop his 400 lb body from resisting. None of the NYC cops intended to kill him, just to stop him from committing a crime. Isn't that what they are paid to do?

BevfromNYC said...

"...there needs to be genuine accountability."

Andrew - One would think, wouldn't one? When they draw up budgets for these projects they even build in a certain amount for cost overruns. But it never works out that they are penalized for it in public projects anyway.

Anthony said...


I'd say there is a spectrum of resistance. Backing up and raising one's hands after one has been told to put them behind one's back is resisting arrest, but its not the same as punching, shoving or wrestling with a cop.

Also, its worth keeping in mind that the police were there because they suspected him of selling cigarettes illegally. That is a crime which cheats the state of revenue, but it didn't make him a menace to the public.

Both the crime and his form of resistance indicate to me that the lethal response was uncalled for.

As for the argument the killing was accidental, yeah, it was, but the cop intentionally used a move which was banned because it killed people.

To use a metaphor, that is like one of my daughters staining the sofa because she spilled soup on it after I told them to only eat at the dining room table. No, it wasn't an intentional act, but she did it by ignoring the rules I set which would have prevented the accident from happening. She didn't escape punishment because the stain was an accident.

BevfromNYC said...

Anthony - Yes, yes, he was a petty criminal and we should just ignore the petty crimes. I get it. But then again, that's what got NYC in trouble in the first place that started us down the road to needing "stop and frisk"...ignoring petty crimes.

Since I am NOT a petty criminal because I choose to NOT be a petty criminal, I have no sympathy for petty criminals. This is MY city and I am tired of people telling me that I have to put up with petty criminals. Don't commit crimes, don't LOOK like you are committing crimes, and you won't have to come in contact with the police.

Sorry, but I have no sympathy. He was committing a crime and he resisted arrest. What do you consider a crime that is worthy of the police, anyway??

Anthony said...


Where did I say we should ignore petty criminals? Seriously, kindly point out to me what phrase or combination of phrases I used at any point in this or any other discussion that led you to that conclusion. I suspect I will have a very long wait since I explicitly stated the fact the guy was being arrested was fine since he was committing a crime, but neither the crime nor his method resisting arrest merited lethal force.

If you want to give the police or any other government agency a blank check to do whatever it feels needs doing, fine and good, but don't twist my words to do it.

CrisD said...

So Bev,
Are they going to have to cancel the Christmas Tree Lighting tonight? I heard a violent protest was in the works (twitchy).

BevfromNYC said...

Anthony - Let me ask you a question. If you daughter continued to spill her soup on the couch after you punished her, what would you do? Would you continue to "punish her" but still excuse her being "unintentional"?

Metaphorically, that is what Garner did. He was a career petty criminal know well to the police. They tried to arrest him and he resisted. It took 4 cops to take the 400 lb man down. Should he have died? NO. Should have put himself in that position? Also, NO.

I don't want to be incendiary, and I respect you and your valuable opinion, but from my perspective, Al Sharpton solves nothing. It is hard to be understanding.or sympathetic.

BevfromNYC said...

CrisD - No, they will not cancel the Tree Lighting at Rock Center. And let the violent protest shut it down. But if violence does ensue and innocent people are harmed, let it be on Al Sharpton's head. I say that knowing that he will once again be excused and so will those who incite violence. It's a shame because violence just breed more violence. Isn't this what Martin Luther King spoke out against?

CrisD said...

Bev, Twitchy (Michele Malkin) posted many tweets from Liberals (crazies) defnitely inciting violence. Disgusting. But, if I were a leader I would call it off because I would not want such a pitiful sight. (or I am incredibly weak)

Hemamalini said...

My vote is for practical and ecologically, resource efficient. "Spectacular" in my mind means simple, open and classical architecture which incorporates as much nature as possible into the design.

Dubai is just plain tacky. They have so many over the top futuristic style buildings while half the women are roaming around with their faces covered.

They are like a mini-USA in the desert. Trying to outdo the world in gluttony, ostentatious displays of wealth and obnoxious consumerism.


Koshcat said...

You need both. Lame answer I know but without the boring but practical things, the spectacular won't stand out.

Anthony said...


The fact Garner raised his hands rather than submitting them to be cuffed is resistance, but its resistance that doesn't put cops in danger or place them in reasonable fear of their lives (which say, groping for an object in one's waist would do) so it didn't merit deadly force.

Also, who said anything about the Garner's crime being unintentional? The unintentional thing was the cop killing Garner, but the cop did so by breaking a rule (no chokeholds) established to avoid such killings so he should not have completely avoided punishment for it.

The fact Garner sold cigarettes and maybe even Big Gulps repeatedly is an indicator that the law needs to be tightened, but I don't think death should be one of the punishments.

darski said...

I heard a report that Diblasio had a sit down with his son and told him how cops would treat him. Personally, I think the NYPD should agree to stay very, very, far away from him and his family. If he is opposed to police protection - let him eat cake.

BevfromNYC said...

Darski - let's just say that I doubt there will be any NYC cop throwing themselves in front of a bullet to save DiBlasio ever again. I will assume that along with sitting down with their son about how he will be perceived by the cops, they also told him to NOT commit crimes, do not hang around with kids who commit crimes, don't do or sell drugs and don't dress or speak like some gang banger.

And maybe they added that Dante and their daughter are overwhelming more likely to injured or killed while black by another black teenager than they are by any cop...period. When that is part of the conversation and not an "insulting and racist talking point" right out of the FBI's own statistics in , then we can have a honest conversation about what the real problems are. Until then, it's only Al Sharpton's words that matter...

Hemamalini said...

"And maybe they added that Dante and their daughter are overwhelming more likely to injured or killed while black by another black teenager than they are by any cop...period. When that is part of the conversation ..."

Its been part of the convo for a very long time. BUT the black criminals who kill black people are sent to jail, often for a very long time, life or they get death penalty.

The issue on the table right now is will cops, black or white, who kill unjustly be meted out the same?

This discussion has been going on for decades (hundreds of years now really) amongst black Americans. Now it appears its getting mainstream media time too.


ScottDS said...

In case anyone is still reading, this is why we can't have nice things! :-)

It's re: the transit hub boondoggle mentioned above.

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