Tag Archives: stimulus

Other

“Oh God…”

government-spending
… as a friend said when I sent him the that screenshot. The Obama administration has made a point of increasing organizational transparency, but the results aren’t pretty. What’s particularly terrifying (I think) is the guns/butter dichotomy. It’s sure to offend every side imaginable, except the literal fascists among us. Considering the costs of entitlement programs and the influence of the aerospace-weapons cartel this isn’t surprising. But the shock is still there; it’s so undeniably Roman.
You can take a look at some of the other fund recipients at usaspending.gov.
Local

Some DC stimulus information

I can’t embed it, but DOT, HUD and USDA have created an excellent map of their grant programs. You can see relative amounts of money spent (“invested,” as they say) in each state, county, and then even down to the project level. 35 DC organizations, including supplemental nutrition programs and shelter and housing nonprofits recieved money from the various formula grant programs. The total allocation is $48.7M, determined by formula.

For the cartophobic and verbal learners, a list of all the USDA and HUD programs in DC is available here, beginning toward the end of the page.

USDOT’s map lacks the visual breakdown to individual projects and uses a totally different base map, but it still has projects lists in a pop-up window. DC’s distribution claims to be largely railroad investment, but a quick look reveals that the sum includes the $1B grant given to Amtrak, as though DC  is the only beneficiary.

Other

Delaware feels a little snubbed

In their most recent stimulus certification (PDF), the DOT of the little-but great state of Delaware expressed a little lonely sadness in a project description for their famous toll plaza in Newark:

I-95 Newark Toll Plaza (25-090-02)
Justification: This toll plaza experiences high levels of congestion due to the current plaza configuration. As approximately 55 percent of travelers through the plaza utilize E-ZPass, congestion would be drastically reduced with high-speed lanes. This plaza is a regular complaint of motorists traveling through this state, and leaves travelers with a negative impression – in many cases their only impression — of Delaware, impacting reputation, business, tourism and economic development.

I don’t know whether they were playing for some Charlie Brown sympathy, but they might give off a better impression if they got some FRA money for the Wilmington Rail Station, or even fixed their graphs. Don’t worry,  we’ll come visit soon!

Architecture

Why Design Matters for the Stimulus: Architects

So this is “a few days” late due to some issues with permissions, but here is part two of my argument for design in the stimulus.

The Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge, by Bretandmarilyn on flickr.
The Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge, courtesy of Brent and MariLynn on flickr.

Unless they are receiving unemployment benefits, the stimulus package is not something that will benefit most architects in any direct way. Mostly consisting of spending for non-physical programs, the ≈$94,000,000,000 that is there for infrastructure and construction is not going to any public projects that conventionally get the high-end architecture treatment. Yet if governments and agencies receive grants for utilities or other community assets and approach these structures with an eye to aesthetics, there is the potential for incredible additions to the fabric of our of towns and cities.

If the average architect wants to get design into these buildings, they’re going to have to look to practice architecture differently than they currently do. Firstly, they need to embrace building information modeling. Secondly, they need to emphasize designing details rather than looking at sophisticated conceptual schemes as justifications for form. Thirdly, architects need to look for different opportunities than what they have conventionally seen as prestige architecture projects. read more »

Other planning

DC area stimulus projects – Updated!

I’ve updated my map of DC-area stimulus projects to reflect some that were missing last time and added stimulus projects in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. I’ll add projects in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax when they are publicly approved.


View DC Area Stimulus Projects in a larger map

Other planning

DC’s Shovel-Ready Projects

This monday, Mayor Fenty signed and submitted the section 1511 certification to request funds for the first round of highway under the stimulus bill or the ARRA, as the hepcats in the GAO call it. Despite it being for “highway funding” the $57,650,000 will go to eight items that are actually quite urban. Almost every project includes some benefit for pedestrians or the city, and at least two are primarily for them: the Great Streets Initiative project on Pennsylvania Avenue and sidewalk enhancements across the city. Take a look at the projects in the map below, or follow after the break to see a list of projects as well as well as a few proposed ones that didn’t make it. 


View Larger Map
read more »

Other planning

Colorado gets transparency better

After Delaware’s hilarious failure at conveying information, this actually useful Google map from Colorado is refreshing. Since it contains costs, descriptions, ARRA funding, award dates, and completion estimates in a handy visual shell, this has to be the best stimulus site I’ve seen. 

colorado's stimulus funding interfaceIt’s still a lot of semi-imaginary cash thrown at highway construction, which isn’t a good long term allocation for several reasons, but at least they tell us where it’s going with maps…

Other

This may be the worst graph ever…

From the Delaware Recovery Site. There’s neither a scale nor any quanta, it’s made of shapes that distort the sizes, it has a dull gray background, the labels are unexplained and uncomfortably juxtaposed, and it sure takes a lot of space to say absolutely nothing here… Edward Tufte is probably having a conniption. This kind of graphical blather is no way to further government transparency and demonstrates plain incompetence on the part of the PR department.

Architecture

Why Design Matters for the Stimulus: The Government

The Newtown Creek Plants anaerobic digesters have earned a catchy nickname.

The Newtown Creek Plant's sleek anaerobic digesters.

In choosing to spend so much money to build new infrastructure, Congress and the President have committed to constructing utilities and transportation for the next fifty years. Consequently, all of these structures and systems must reflect this long-term goal, not only in the quality of construction but also in the quality of design. As they allocate the federal funding, governments and agencies should consider the very real need for public projects to employ an architecture of civic responsibility. Architects, in turn, should be ready to adapt their practices to meet the need for basic public design, a major shift many are eager to try.

First off, it’s worth explaining what the stimulus bill offers architects and agencies? There are two major categories: firstly, sustainable or “green” renovations and expansions of housing, schools, and government offices, and secondly, the money granted to local utilities chance to be creative with unconventional programs and types with a thin budget. The former type of project is not too different from what they’d be doing most days, although those firms would benefit greatly from improving technological capabilities, such as employing building information modeling, which reduces cost and improves quality by reducing errors, simplifying design, and allowing for sophisticated environmental testing. The government should encourage the use of these programs, setting a standard for 21st-century architecture and construction.

Typical Water Treatment plant
A waste of resources.

In the second category, there are many types of buildings that have been neglected aesthetically or financially that are now receiving large grants as part of the stimulus. Transportation, power plants and electrical systems, water treatment facilities, housing projects, and port facilities will all be receiving funding for improvements. The government owes it to the people who live by, pass through, or otherwise see the underside of public infrastructure to improve quality. More attractive overpasses, wind farms, and customs houses will make a small but important improvement of the built environment, definitely impacting the daily lives of Americans.

Similarly, funding for transit organizations can go to better bus shelters or bike stands. As the recent competition in New York showed, small firms are ready to make simple but interesting designs for little bits and pieces on the street. Both proponents and opponents of spending are fixated on monumental projects, things that will last. However, wide projects of small improvements might make just as much of an economic and physical improvement. Planting thousands of trees would pay off far more than another highway resurfacing, especially as part of a greater streetscape improvement plan. Moreover, agencies should set aside a small portion of their funds to ensure that a little art and a little design make it into every project, improving the quality and distinctiveness of each and every location. Many of these facilites are in people’s backyards; planners need to respect the neighbors.

A notable exception to the recent pattern of charmless public architecture is the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, in Queens. Designed by the ever-pragmatic and flexible Polshek Partnership Architects of Newseum fame, the multi-million dollar project has met with universal praise and become an icon of the area, while still efficiently treating blackwater sewage. Polshek designed it with a modern industrial look, simplifying and beautifying the fascinating shapes of anaerobic digesters and aeration buildings. Additionally, the building is designed for tours and educational visits, while a 1% allotment for art has allowed for bold lighting that stands in contrast to the dull orange glow of the city.

Through all the praise for both the Newtown Creek plant, critics and officials have emphasized how different they look from conventional buildings and how much more attractively these massive plants interact with the rest of the neighborhood. People are surprised that the buildings aren’t ugly, as though this is an innovation that took a genius. However, architects have historically approached such facilities as civic assets, building them out in a monumental fashion. Likewise, the New Deal introduced art and architecture to almost every project it executed, from libraries to TVA dams. These buildings reflected the cultures and programs of their builders. It would reflect poorly on our time if we settle for bare function and apathy.

Government’s role in improving and stewarding common places means that it must provide and demand attractive, functional facilities for its people. For this reason, renewing America means not only fixing it up at basic levels, but also making it more beautiful at the same time. Architects are ready and eager to improve the country, but they will have to adapt to new conditions. Indeed, they may be better for it if they grow creatively in response to limitations and employ technology in making practice faster and more transparent. But they have to get the work. If agencies set aside only a small portion of funds for architecture, lay out the goals, pick like-minded architects, and insist on good results, the resulting cultural effusion would boost the resolve of Americans and leave a long-lasting improvements in the most desperately needed places.

In Part Two, some thoughts on how architects should approach Stimulus design.