Weekend Ruminations of an Architect

Ahhh. Nothing like a nice warm day at the end of March to get into the garden, turn the soil and plant the early spring seeds for spinach and salad greens. Peas, of course, were planted last weekend. The wonderful smell of the freshly turned earth awakened from its winter slumber and full of worms squiggling into action stimulates and awakes your senses and fills your soul with anticipation and optimism. The spring weather will soon arrive.

After gardening, I settled into the weekend with a cup of coffee and The New York Times. Searching for positive news stories to match my mood, I skipped the finance section believing I wasn’t going to find any optimism there. Maybe I’ll use it for the charcoal starter for the barbecue. The Arts section is always uplifting with stories of great works of art, dance, music and theater though I skipped movie reviews since I wasn’t looking to read about violent movies on a nice spring day.

An article in the Art and Design section by Nicolai Ouroussoff on the status of American cities and the ongoing planning to revive and re-establish them caught my eye. Contrary to suburban sprawl and gated communities, cities by nature are sustainable with consolidated infrastructure, mass transit and dense development. In “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now,” Ouroussoff discusses how we need to understand the role of both the government and sustainability in our cities. He notes ‘shovel ready’ projects are only a start. For example, the last insertion of funding for infrastructure during the Eisenhower Administration provided the means for the middle-class families to move out of cities into the surrounding open land. Cities began to die and barriers formed, increasing racial and socioeconomic segregation. Half a century later, city dwellers like me face a difficult situation. Many city administrators have not paid enough attention to addressing financial issues properly and have driven city budgets into the ground.

The Obama Administration has created new possibilities for cities if they use funding in the right way. Ouroussoff discusses budget strategies considered for Los Angeles, New Orleans, the Bronx, and Buffalo. New Jersey has its own plans for its urban centers. The planned redevelopment of downtown Trenton and Route 29 along the Delaware River is an example of a project that can be an initial step in turning around my city.

The rebirth of our cities will take more than ‘shovel ready’ projects under public funding. It will take commitment from private investment as well. Developers will hopefully soon understand that urban living, particularly on the East Coast, is a desired commodity and will invest in them with the same vigor with which they invested in suburban sprawl for the past 50 years.