Saturday, December 20, 2008

With Senate candidate and transportation policy, new politics look like old politics

In some cases, the new politics seems a bit too much like the old politics, and some tangents connect to Atlantic Yards.

Locally, the Kennedy coronation

First, the ascension of Caroline Kennedy as the front-runner for the soon-to-be-free Senate seat in New York has already drawn the endorsement of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, support from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and will involve the influential consultants Knickerbocker SKD, who work for Bloomberg, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and--of course--Forest City Ratner.

Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice laid it out, and NoLandGrab linked to a couple of pieces I've written about Knickerbocker SKD's propaganda for FCR and candidate Tracy Boyland.

In the Times, Judith Warner deftly disagreed with those plumping for Kennedy.

National transportation policy

On the national scene, President-elect Barack Obama's appointment of Ray LaHood as transportation secretary has provoked dismay from sustainable transport and smart growth advocates, wrote Streetsblog's Aaron Naparstek in Same.gov: A Transportation Secretary Who’s Hard to Believe In.

Lahood has "close ties to highway lobby stalwart Caterpillar Inc.," observed Naparstek, and, says Petra Todorovich, director of Regional Plan Association’s America 2050 program, "Obama still hasn't made the transportation - land use - climate connection."

Before the appointment, Streetsblog pointed to the division between states, which are emphasizing road projects in their wish list of stimulus projects, while cities are dealing with congestion.

New York's Metropolitian Transportation Authority, however, has only asked for station rehabs and accelerated track replacement, pointed out Streetsblog's Ben Fried, who added:
So what would a visionary infrastructure stimulus for New York look like? How about physically separated, radial BRT lines connecting the outer boroughs to Manhattan (or at least implementing the BRT pilot plan that's been public for more than two years). Or an accelerated and expanded build-out of the protected bike path network. If there was ever a time to think big, now is the moment.

Such BRT, or bus rapid transit, has been proposed for Flatbush Avenue and might be crucial to the success of AY, but BRT for Nostrand Avenue wouldn't come until 2012, with Flatbush Avenue unscheduled.

Short-term, long-term

Author and critic James Howard Kunstler, known for his book on peak oil, The Long Emergency, offered some serious warnings in a post headlined People Get Ready.

Investments in highway repair means we will be investing long-term in infrastructure that we probably won't be using the same way in ten years. But I doubt there is any way around it. The American public can't conceive of living any other way except in a car-centered society. Anyway, some parts of our highway-bridge-and-tunnel system are already so decrepit that they pose a menace right now, and the clamor to direct "stimulation" there is already very strong -- backed by all the fraternities of engineers.

Stimulus aimed at perpetuating mass motoring will be a tragic waste of our dwindling resources. We'd be better off aiming it at fixing the railroads (especially electrifying them), refitting our harbors with piers and warehouses in preparation to move more stuff by boats, and in repairing the electric grid.


He concluded:
Mr. Obama would be most successful if he could persuade the public how much more severe the required changes are than they currently realize, and inspire them to get with program of retrofitting American life to comply with these realities.


Bringing it all together

In What Kind of New Deal?, Richard Wells wrote in the December/January issue of the Brooklyn Rail about the importance of community organizing and agitation:
They proclaim, in their own modest ways, that ordinary people have “a right to the city,” and that, in the present context, is the important thing. Of course we’re a long way from actually securing this right, and the problem is not purely one of mustering, finally, enough strength to convince the mayor and the Department of City Planning that enough is enough. The withdrawal of federal support for urban development over the years created a vacuum that real estate giants like The Related Group and the Vornado Realty Trust have unfortunately filled.

Obama has declared his intention to upgrade the federal Community Development Block Grant program. That’s a good place to start, and indeed, he probably should fold such plans into his stimulus package as well. But the feds need to attach strings. In other words, aid has to be structured around a project for comprehensive planning for the public good, not around the ad hoc policy of incentivizing private sector profits that currently masquerades as planning. The city would then have to once and for all beef up its Uniform Land Review Process. For this to work, existing public institutions like Community Boards would have to be restructured, so that they have real, as opposed to advisory, power to decide what gets built where. They will also need to be staffed up with trained men and women, with real commitment, to work with residents on their plans. This would require more money in the form of targeted grants. Moses had his corps of unemployed architects, who found great satisfaction in their work; this time around, there will be plenty of under and unemployed BAs, MAs and, PhD.s, well schooled in the movements for housing reform, labor rights, and environmental justice, who would welcome a similar opportunity.

(Emphasis added)

In other words, process--as we've learned all too well in the Atlantic Yards saga--is inseparable from product.

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