Washington Sq-newly renovated 2009

July 19 — Washington Square park

Walking home, in the warm breezes of this summer’s evening — Washington Square Park is alive! It seems more than one and one-half years that the variously located chain-link fences have kept us from crossing the square diagonally as required by Greenwich Village bohemian legacy.  And the fear, the anticipation that the beloved park would be spiffed up beyond recognition is finally quelled.  The fountain is huge, splashy, easily accessible, and centered on the Arch, allowing, as per NYC Parks and Recreation, “approximately 20 percent increase in unpaved green space”.  The stone benches are smooth and inviting.  And apparently we still have a rebuilt playground and dog runs and a performance space to look forward to.  Also,

… the final phase will include a new park house with a new comfort station for the public and space for the Parks maintenance staff.

Hopper/Kertész/Pène du Bois ("Chess Tables")

Hopper/Kertész/Pène du Bois ("Chess Tables")

The first fountain was built in 1852, the permanent arched monument to president Washington, in 1892.  Hard to believe that traffic once rolled through the park, and 20th century historical figures like Robert Moses and Jane Jacob’s clashed there.

I do romanticize about the Village I never knew – of ballads and beatniks in the early part of last century – every time I cross the park.

Matt Peterson, Shukov's Tower, Leni, Cassim Shepard and musician

Matt Peterson, Shukov's Tower, Leni, Cassim Shepard and musician

July 20 — Broadway Boogie Woogie: A City Unfinished at Brecht Forum

This post starts as a story about Facebook.  I “fanned” Urban Omnibus the online organ of Architectural League.  A film series, “Right to the City” caught my attention, so I disseminated the information to my Facebook friends and fans. Arriving super early, to get a front row seat, I had an opportunity to meet Matt Peterson, the Red Channels AV curator, himself.  While chatting on a bar stool (sorry, no refreshments) I recalled my high-school days in Berkeley – as founder of Solidarity Films, a film distribution company with offices on Channing Way just off Telegraph Ave.  The chutzpah! Young and dedicated to the idea of film as agent of change, my best friend and I rented out 16mm films to colleges and independent exhibitors – cleaning, tracking, repairing… and tried to build a mobile film truck for outdoor film showings.

Later, I encountered Cassim Shepard, the project director of Urban Omnibus. Mr. Shepard is involved in visual media, as well as the printed word, about architecture and urbanism.  In his preview, he enjoined the reader to attend the silent double feature – six shorts made from 1903-1948 on New York City and a 59 minute feature, Moscow – accompanied by the Citizens Ontological Music Agenda.

Anyone with an interest in how the analysis and representation of New York’s built environment has changed in the past century should not miss this three-part event…. and as a special treat, after taking in some beautiful New York city films, stay for part two to check out Kaufman’s 1927 film Moscow. – Cassim Shepard, Urban Omnibus

Moscow WAS as thrilling as the early NYC films, I translated what I could using my Berkeley High School Russian sounding out the Cyrillic.  The breathtaking moment was an ACTUAL SHOT of artist-engineer Shukov’s 1922-built radio tower. (Please see the spectacular 360-degree, interactive shot by Andrey Ilyin – from and onto the tower – here)

I look forward to seeing you at the August 3rd screening: Bridges and Tunnels: Art and Efficiency.

Chess NYC at Herald Square

Chess NYC at Herald Square

July 24 — Chess NYC at Herald Square (and mid-town’s Broadway pedestrianization)

I was walking at high velocity to my Tai Chi class, choosing to walk in the road – the new pedestrian haven of midtown Broadway, Manhattan.  To my right and left – home-grown sun umbrellas, pebbled-pavement and people sunning, talking, on the phone, reading – right in the center of Broadway! I walked by a giant chess set and checkerboard-festooned red tables [only just registering… hmm caught the traffic light]…. hmm – wasn’t that amazing?  A quick pirouette and I turned back to the spectacle of children and adults of ethnic and racial variety concentrating on chess games… right in the street.  I spoke to a man in charge; Mr. Ahmed.  He told me the story, New York City Chess  started on 112th and Broadway to enjoy chess, conversation, and community.  They formed an itinerant crew, setting up further and further down Broadway, then they got a grant… now there are eight on staff!

From there we began to organize and see an opportunity to bring people together through chess. We ran tournaments, offered lessons, and developed merchandise that represented our vision. Chess is a perfect combination of body, mind, and soul! People of all races, ages, genders, and social status can sit across the 64 squares and be perfect equals. This concept epitomizes life in New York City.  — from the Chess NYC website

Ahmed appeared to be writing and reading a foreign language dictionary.  When asked if he was studying, he explained, that he was “pursuing intellectual freedom”.  The street, chess and reading seem a perfect blend of subversive, an antidote to Sex in the City.
pedestrianization - Herald Square And Chess NYC would not have a prime middle-of-the-street venue, if it was not for 34th Street Partnership, Herald Square’s Business Improvement District, and New York City Department of Transportation‘s “Green Light for Midtown” plan, a pilot project to pedestrianize Broadway with the aim to improve midtown congestion and safety.

Dixon Place-walk

July 26 — John Kelly and Carol Lipnik, “The Escape Artist“, at Dixon Place

The rain was sheeting and spitting and the sun was glaring and lightning struck.  The Manhattanite’s summer dilemma, should we get tickets to a friend’s show – even if it is raining? Off to see The Escape Artist, Caravaggio meets Contemporary Art Song + Video.

“The Escape Artist” considers the parallels between the unbridled creative spirit of the urban artist of the 17th and 21st centuries. — from the program

The fully equipped 120-person theatre has been recently constructed.  The spaciousness, sound reinforcement and simple setting supported a mesmerizing performance.  Mr. Kelly, playing a cast of Carvaggio’s painterly subjects, interacted with himself on screen – the tilt of a head, a simple red folded wrap… these gestures sparked immediate recognition.

Sitting toward center, stage-right of the band, Ms. Lipnik, swayed with the music and vocalized in haunting harmonic phrases.

Kelly-Lipnik at Dixon Place

We took the subway, the B-train, to the show and walked home, in the shadowy rain and lightning.

*dérive

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. — Theory of the Dérive by Guy-Ernest Debord

goingpub_2 This sold-out conference was presented by the Greater New York Construction User Council and the Building Trades Employers’ Association at  AIA Center for Architecture (NYC), April 21,2009.

The panels were:

Rebuilding our Nation’s Infrastructure, from Housing to Highways, Green Retrofitting of Public and Private Buildings, Public-Private Partnerships for Municipal and Institutional construction, Renewable Energy for the 21st Century.

Here I comment on two of them:

Rebuilding our Nation’s Infrastructure, from Housing to Highways

Michael Della Rocca, President/Regional Managing Director, North America Halcrow Inc

After 30 years doing this work, infrastructure is finally a headline story.

Mr. Della Rocca discussed why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds are more valuable;  usually federal funding has to be matched by the state at  80/20 or 50/50, this program is 100% on the dollar.  Projects will be bid as usual.  Agencies involved include DOT, Amtrak and Metro North.  There is a “Use it or lose it”.  The  projects have time sensitivity – have to be completed in 120 days or365 days depending on requirements.

ARRA Priorities:

  1. job creation
  2. speed – shovel ready, design is done, ready to bid
  3. green component, for example, public transit

Mr. Della Rocca’s counter intuitive statement; Why it is important that Recovery Acts projects succeed.

Every six years a new transportation bill is reauthorized.  On  September 30 2009 the new legislation will be passed regarding how transportation monies are allocated and spent.   If we are effective there will be more political will to add more transportation dollars.

He mentioned Transportation for America’s T4 Platform designed to guide the new federal surface transportation authorization legislation.  This is important! If you do not know T4 yet – see the Transportation for America website – a comprehensive review the issues, headlines and organizations who support a wide ranging platform for the renewed TEA bill, surprisingly inclusive of a sustainable transportation system (including high- speed rail and world-class public transportation), infrastructure, walking and biking and new public policy of accountability.

In 2009, Congress and the next Administration will face the expiration of the current $286 billion national transportation program. The choice is clear: Move our nation in a bold new direction, or continue on the current path of spending billions of taxpayer dollars with little accountability on a system that is both BROKE and BROKEN. (Transportation for America Website)

New York City’s transit/transportation use is skewed opposite to the rest of the country.  Federal funding used to slant toward creating urban sprawl (roadways) and now, with a focus on transit-oriented development, funds favor the NYC approach.

David Tweedy, Chief of Capital Planning, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA)

Issues from the owner’s perspective:

  • lost revenue from bridges and tunnels
  • challenges as a Bi-State agency
  • annual plan has to balance – not enough revenues
  • commit and award $3.3 billion — a historic amount to capital projects such as airports, security, sustainability

PA is not beneficiary of first round of stimulus funds but  if  MTA gets money, the linkages to Port Authority services- such as 1 and 9 subway lines at the Hub – are enhanced.  Also, Route 9A impacts PA services.  He stated that phasing projects so that smaller firms can bid has made the Port’s MBE/WBE/DBE program very strong, robust and outreach is good.

PA is helping other agencies with weaker MBE/WBE/DBE programs.

(Light Projects had to apply first to Port Authority to enter the Unified Application for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a must for small businesses to qualify for  federally funded projects. Refer to  my previous post – February)

The World Trade Center rebuilding is expending up $11 billion over 5 years — and there is a burden on balancing capital planning and spending… “quiet projects tend to be deferred”, he stated.

What about P3?  Mr. Tweedy had the same answer as Executive Director, Christopher Ward, as quoted in my February post about the Construction Users Council’s previous meeting; the PA is “taking  a hard look” at PPP for the Staten Island bridges linking New York with New Jersey; the Bayonne, Goethals and Outerbridge Crossing.  All need refurbishment and the Bayonne Bridge in particular will need an overhaul to accept taller ships that the new dimensions of the Panama Canal allow.

Constructing the Economic Recovery – Public-Private Partnerships for Municipal and Institutional Construction.

Kenneth D. Levien, President Levien & Company

Where did PPP come from? Mr. Levien humorously invoked the Daily News’ famous banner headline when President Ford declared his lack of support for  “a federal bail-out of New York City” in 1975.

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD [“I can tell you now that I am prepared to veto any bill that has as its purpose a federal bailout of New York City to prevent a default,” the President said.]

Here I reproduce Mr. Leviens PowerPoint primer on public/private…

Successful public/private projects generally share three attributes:

  • partners are cooperative rather than adversarial, because their interests align
  • formal contracts set the terms under which they share risk and responsibility for mutual financial gain and social benefit.
  • custom tailored business arrangements often persist after the project is completed and operating.

Why establish public/private partnerships?

  • the actual cost of providing government services is too high
  • it creates more budget capacity for your operating budget and it spreads the risk
  • having alternative activities with partners spreads the risk
  • merging resources helps to create a higher service delivery between partners
  • creates entrepreneurial opportunities not always affordable to public agencies
  • expands and changes the staff’s mindset in creative thinking when you have to plan with your partner
  • creates a market driven approach to service delivery versus a product approach
  • service to patrons becomes the key to success in partnering.

Why partnerships fail:

  • lack of commitment from one or multiple partners
  • using partnership for personal gain
  • the objectives lacked clarity
  • greater than reasonable expectations form the partner
  • the agreement was not equitable – not considered a Win-Win
  • hidden agendas on both sides
  • did not communicate effectively and no follow through.

John T Livingston, President Tishman Construction Corp.

… don’t confuse design-ready with shovel ready. Has the project been value-engineered?  If so then it is shovel ready. And despite requirement for shovel ready projects they will still be widely advertised and subject to competition.

Mr. Livingston feels that potential PPP Projects will be infrastructure such as tunnels, bridges, and highways; buildings such as courthouses, office buildings and renovations of existing buildings;  energy sustainability projects;  and FDIC joint venture for development projects.

steelmillsatnight-circa1950It is exhilarating and astonishing indeed to be living this infrastructure headline world.   Born a steel-mill electrician’s daughter, stories of pig iron, scrap metal and smelting were narrated by both my father and mother, generally while on a journey by car.  I grew up fascinated by the working world and how it worked.

Building and crafting were noble… and no job was too hard to do or envision.

As a New Yorker,  I have not driven for over a decade, walking and public transportation are daily modes of movement.  Pounding my dear city’s pavement while envisioning a city of light is not impossible these days.

CITY TO CITIZEN: I AM YOUR HOME

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Resources

ANALYSIS-Clock ticking on US transportation bill (Reuters April 28, 2009)

Federal

www.Recovery.gov -As the centerpiece of the President’s commitment to transparency and accountability, Recovery.gov will feature information on how the Act is working, tools to help you hold the government accountable, and up-to-date data on the expenditure of funds.

www.grants.gov -Grants.gov is your source to FIND and APPLY for federal government grants.

www.FedBizOpps.gov – the federal government’s one-stop virtual marketplace

www.GovLoans.gov – your source for locating the loans you need

www.GovBenefits.gov – the official benefits website of the U.S. government, with information on over 1,000 benefit and assistance programs.

Progress Report; US DOT – this is the 100 day report card from the US Department of Transportation

EPA Implementation of ARRA – read about the Environmental Protection Agencies progress

State

www.economicrecovery.ny.gov – New York State Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

www.panynj.gov – Port Authority of NY and NJ

City

www.nycetc.org – NYC Training Employment Coalition

NYC.Gov – Stimulus Tracker With the NYCStat Stimulus Tracker, New Yorkers can track the City’s use of federal stimulus/recovery funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Greater New York Construction User Council Panelists: Jason Bram (economist, Federal Reserve Bank of New York), Seth Pinsky (President, New York City Economic Development Corporation – NYCEDC), Elliot Sander (Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – MTA), Christopher O. Ward (Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – PANYNJ)

The event was very well attended. Each panelist opened by explaining construction and budget issues during the next period. The real-estate blog GreenPearl covers these facts and figures.

Mr. Sander brought along a rail marker signal; “my friend Mike”, and explained that the signal systems have to be upgraded and that they are doing so for the Number 7 line and Queen’s Plaza. In regards to technology and innovation, he said that when the engineers first removed this, the standard signal, they assumed that it was manufactured in the 1930’s, and it may have been, but it was revelatory when they looked at the engraved patent label, it said 1912!

My contribution was to ask about the importance of aesthetics and innovation in infrastructure developments during the Q&A. Chris Ward cited the concept of “creative cities” and how aesthetics add value to the urban environment. He opined that “engineering and aesthetics can create new models”. And reminded the audience that Christo’s Central Park “The Gates” brought record revenues into NYC. Mr. Ward noted that it was a “balancing act” – “expense versus look and feel” of a in terms of infrastructural projects.

On the question of sustainability and how the agencies were applying these principles to infrastructure, Mr. Ward’s quote is my favorite, “the sustainability prism is a screening process…”

One of my new interests, Public Private Partnerships (PPP), was addressed. Mr. Ward suggested that PANYNJ is not interested in monetization in the model of tollways, but that they might be interested in money to fill a gap, with sovereign funds, for example. He indicated that the Port’s Staten Island Bridge assets were reaching the end of life and that funding that project would be challenging.

MTA said that they were also open to PPP involvement and so was the City – supportive of PPP and leveraging funds.

This interchange was intriguing, as PPP has not made the kind of headway that you see in UK, India, and South America.

The Council announced that they will be holding an event on Public Private Partnerships in April 2009.

Online Resources
Can P3s boost the stimulus? (Huffington Post)
PPP Bulletin
Public Private News Aggregator
PPP India
Federal Highway/PPP

National Council of Public-Private Partnerships

Public Tenders

Public Private Partnerships