Oversell at the Times

29 Mar

The New York Times published a piece a few days ago entitled, “Reinventing America’s Cities”. It recounts how during the ’80s and ’90s, while the US was in full Reaganomics-small-government-is-good-government mode, Europe was building things like an efficient high-speed rail network, and doing so in an environmentally sensitive way. The piece mentions how several European cities are contemplating change.

It then turns to US cities and brings up the New Deal’s WPA and Eisenhower’s interstate program as examples of our country making that sort of groundbreaking change.

The problem in America is not a lack of ideas. It is a tendency to equate any large-scale government construction project, no matter how thoughtful, with the most brutal urban renewal tactics of the 1950s. One result has been that pioneering projects that skillfully blend basic infrastructure with broader urban needs like housing and park space are usually killed in their infancy. Another is that we now have an archaic and grotesquely wasteful federal system in which upkeep for roads, subways, housing, public parkland and our water supply are all handled separately.

With money now available to invest again in such basic needs, I’d like to look at four cities representing a range of urban challenges and some of the plans available to address them. Though none of the plans are ideal as they stand today (and some of them represent only the germ of an idea), evaluated and addressed together as part of a coordinated effort, they could begin to form a blueprint for making our cities more efficient, sustainable and livable.

  • New Orleans: needs to rebuild almost from scratch.
  • Los Angeles: give the Los Angeles River its natural flow and riverbank again, and the Metro should run along Wilshire Blvd.
  • the Bronx: demolish some of the Bruckner and Sheridan Expwy, freeing up 28 acres of land for housing
  • Buffalo: don’t expand the Peace Bridge plaza, thus requiring the demolition of 5 blocks’ worth of homes on the West Side.
  • Regardless of how you feel about expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza (I favor shared border management, with all inspection carried out on the Fort Erie side of the river), I fail to see how that would be a “reinvention” of Buffalo. Halting yet another in a long line of bad ideas? Sure. A victory for that neighborhood? Naturally. But reinventing the city?

    Seems a bit of an oversell.

    2 Responses to “Oversell at the Times”

    1. reflip March 29, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

      Maybe reinvention is the wrong word, but it would be a significant change for Buffalo. The ideas that 1) Buffalo needs a “signature bridge” to feel good about itself and 2) An entire neighborhood should be demolished to accomodate a truck plaza are both vestiges of 20th century failure. The former is a lingering “silver bullet” syndrome idea, indicating Buffalo is still stuck in the 80’s. The latter harkens back to the ‘brutal urban renewal’ of the mid-20th century, indicating Buffalo is still stuck in the 50’s. Taken together, the whole thing symbolizes everything that Buffalonians hate about themselves and their city, but can’t stop doing.

      This Peace Bridge thing lingering on for decades is like a wide-right groundhog day. While letting it die might not be a reinvention in itself, it would be a symbolic step forward for Buffalo that would then allow us to reinvent ourselves. It’s the obstacle to reinvention that must be removed. Otherwise, we’ll just relapse back into old addictions that kept us down.

    2. Ike March 29, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

      Europe spent all that money on infrastructure projects and still lagged far behind american growth for the past decades…not sure what the euro comparison is supposed to acheive

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