The NY Times illustration (above left) may be a far cry from the Republican’s photo of the fancy new federal courthouse (above right), but it was hard to resist connecting the two stories in today’s papers.
The Republican’s “State Street poised for grand redesign” article starts out with a reference to “local aclaim” that the new federal courthouse on State Street has received (though I don’t think the aclaim has been as universal as the article implies), and the fact that it has received a Design Excellence award from the U.S. General Services Administration. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor is quoted saying that one of the design goals was to “celebrate a modern rebirth of that important urban boulevard.” And in that vein, the article then references “$17 million of infrastructure improvements on a 3.2-mile stretch of State Street – including new utilities, drainage, traffic and pedestrian signals, decorative lighting, landscaping, curbing, sidewalk replacement and milling and repaving of the roadway.” Now we’re talkin’.
Today’s NY Times includes a sweeping article by Nicolai Ouroussoff entitled “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now.” It talks about cities as “invaluable cultural incubators…and vastly more efficient than suburbs.” It compares the current plans to make large scale public investments in domestic infrastructure to the post-WWII “attempt to retool the country’s immense military-industrial complex for a peacetime economy.” But when this was attempted after WWII, this infrastructure created “the means by which middle-class families would flee perceived urban threats — racial friction, potential Soviet bombs — for the supposed security of the suburbs…Creating thousands of miles of intercity highways, the program fueled America’s postwar car culture and suburban sprawl.” Sound familiar?
But this time around, we have some better ideas to work with, Ouroussoff promises. He touches on New Orleans (including a balanced assessment of the Urban Land Institute’s work there), L.A., the Bronx, and Buffalo. In the L.A. section, the various redevelopment plans for Wilshire Boulevard sound like they could be fruitfully applied to Springfield’s State Street or Main Street. By concentrating public schools, mass transit, and cultural institutions along this culture-bridging corridor, Ouroussoff suggests that “Los Angeles might finally find its center, both geographically and socially.” With the help of a new HUD/DOT “Sustainable Communities” initiative (Spanish version here), could Springfield do the same?