This week’s edition of New York has yet another plea for massive federal infrastructure investment. But this time the author is Justin Davidson, the magazine’s resident architecture critic, and it’s worth the read. Though he runs through the usual economic reasons for new bridges and tunnels, Davidson’s emphasis is on the civic: Looking back to the 1930s, he argues that the great New Deal infrastructure projects—Davidson focuses on New York, but one could add the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the beginnings of the Interstate system, among many—gave America a sense of national pride of place, a symbolic geography that generated not just jobs and income, but lasting optimism about what the country could do:
A new New Deal, equipped with an Obama-era version of the Works Progress Administration, could put millions back to work, modernize the country, nudge the economy towards recovery, and produce a barrage of working monuments. It would be a stimulus package that keeps on stimulating long into the future.
Such an effort would tap the best minds in architecture and engineering at a time when the profession is sickening of developer-driven “starchitecture.” And while no project is guaranteed to come in on time and budget, Davidson notes that many of the New Deal infrastructure efforts, perhaps because they were motivated by a national purpose, did just that—including the George Washington Bridge, which cost $5 million less than planned.