Calatrava bridges
October 19, 2005 9:27 AM   Subscribe

The proposed Trinity River Calatrava Bridge in Dallas. As part of an urban renewal and ecological renewal project called the Trinity River Corridor Project, the city of Dallas has contracted with famed architect Santiago Calatrava to design a landmark bridge. The massive project, in addtion to the three signature bridges, is supposed to create right downtown two lakes, a forest, wetlands, outdoor recreation and overall economic renewal to Downtown Dallas. Of course, this massive renewal project depends large part on public funding. Some discussion exists whether large scale public works projects should be undertaken on the public dime. (Previous discussion of Calatrava)
posted by dios (15 comments total)

Public works? Why, that's communism! Public money should only be sent on generous subsidies for our corporations.
posted by keswick at 9:40 AM on October 19, 2005

Um, largescale public works projects have to be undertaken on the public's dime. That's the point of us having a public dime -- so that we can spend it on stuff that we want. Like nice roads, nice libraries, nice schools (even if you don't have kids... cause having smart kids means economic progress), nice recreation areas, and (though I guess it's controversial) nice cultural venues.
posted by zpousman at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2005

Who thought Milwaukee would be a trendsetter?
posted by drezdn at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2005

neato bridge though.
posted by zpousman at 9:44 AM on October 19, 2005

Nice post, dios. Wasn't there a rehabilitation of wetlands and green space in Houston recently? I don't live in Texas but I think I read about that in a landscape architecture magazine.

My personal views line up more closely with the Dallas News editorial that you linked: ...the Trinity Project will be a huge economic engine for the revitalization of downtown, which supplies the oxygen for much of the rest of North Texas... There are other ways Congress can find the money to pay for the catastrophe wrought by Katrina without deepening the federal debt or raising taxes...We propose reopening the energy bill to trim subsidies to oil and gas companies, delaying the end of the estate tax and temporarily suspending laws that require contractors to pay prevailing wage rates on rebuilding efforts.

All in all, public works like schools, bridges, parks, libraries and those sorts of things seem to be beneficial on the whole to communities. However, I can certainly understand the argument against paying hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money on these sorts of things. How many times have cities and states been screwed? When it turns out that the bridges and parks are shit and there's no room in the budget to provide upkeep? People are wary that contracts are only given out to friends and cronies and so on. Shitty public housing projects that quickly deteriorate into slums and have to be rebuilt after twenty or thirty years.

People argue over whether or not the solution is to give these public works more money or less. It should be about having the best idea.
posted by billysumday at 9:49 AM on October 19, 2005

keswick: superb!
posted by Elpoca at 10:05 AM on October 19, 2005

After reading of yet another pending city hall scandal in the Dallas Observer involving mega-rich land developer and oil man Ray Hunt, I can say unreservedly that the City of Dallas sucks. Politically. Culturally. Economically. Racially. Environmentally.

I could go on.

The article will be online soon at the Observer's website.
posted by punkfloyd at 10:25 AM on October 19, 2005

Some discussion exists whether large scale public works projects should be undertaken on the public dime.

As opposed to... what? Who else is gonna pay for it? You think a private company is going to build a wetland on prime downtown real estate? Pffft!
posted by raedyn at 11:17 AM on October 19, 2005

That's the point of us having a public dime -- so that we can spend it on stuff that we want.
posted by zpousman at 11:43 AM CST on October 19

Heh. Good point. What I meant to suggest is the question whether we should have large scale public works projects that only benefit a specific locale paid for with federal dollars as opposed to local and state taxes/bonds. We have a limit on federal dollars (or, at least, we should), and people often decry pork barrel projects, which this bridge seems to be. As our federal government has demands such as rebuilding New Orleans, does that implicate whether we ought to be spending money on signature bridges.

Personally, I would love to see this project occur because it would make Dallas aesthetically more appealing. It is a wonderful city (punkfloyd's comments notwithstanding) that has so much to offer with the exception of natural beauty. And I think it would help the local economy. But my selfish desires to see Dallas improve has to be balanced against the needs of people in other areas, especially since I don't know how quantifiable the benefit to Dallas is in real terms.

I wonder how much value we should place on such projects. Natural beauty is Good. Recreation is Good. Ecological sustainment is Good. Economic revitalization is Good. But are the benefits reaped anywhere other than Dallas? Probably not. So I wonder how much value we should put on localized "Good"s from the perspective of federal spending.
posted by dios at 11:20 AM on October 19, 2005

I think it's an interesting and important concern that you bring up, dios.

There are many things that federal dollars go to that don't directly benefit the whole country. How do we judge which projects are worthy and which aren't?

Example: How does it help you, in Dallas, if New Orleans is rebuilt? I understand New Orleans was an important shipping port to access the Mississippi, is that correct? So obviously people outside of New Orleans benefit from the port. So rebuild the port with federal money. But why should your money pay to rebuild private residences and businesses in another state? And especially why should you pay to rebuild these things in such a flood prone area?

Please realize, I'm not actually suggesting that the federal government should leave New Orleans on its own. But I'm applying similar questions to what could be thought of as a similar situation. The benefit is localized, but funding comes from the federal level. By what metric do we judge what a worthy project is?
posted by raedyn at 11:46 AM on October 19, 2005

You can always make a case against federal spending in a specific case because by definition specific cases are usually not federal in import. However I think you could argue here that the bridges are a link in the national transportation infrastructure. Now, they are a very well-designed link, especially with respect to the consideration paid to the many dimensions of their local impact - but there is no guarantee that if they just built ugly bridges with no concern for their impact, that the ugly bridges would come in any cheaper once the whole thing is through. In fact, I think you can argue that by making the whole thing one big project, Dallas is probably getting all the peripherals at a (relatively) bargain rate ...

Plus, generally, nice architecture is an investment in that it encourages use of space! You could think of all sorts of benefits down the line. For instance if Dallas folks started exercising more, this would save health costs in the long run. Tourists might be encouraged to stay a day longer, and contribute more to the local economy, create local jobs, and reduce welfare rolls. And so on.

And nice post - even if pre-empts a stash of Calatrava links I've been accumulating ;)
posted by carter at 3:25 PM on October 19, 2005

In William Greider's classic "The Education of David Stockman", the conservative onetime Congressman and Reagan budget director was quoted as having said, roughly, "Why should the people of North Carolina pay for a subway for the people of New York?" Later, at the OMB, he found it wasn't quite that simple.

Recently, a liberal talking point seems to have been Alaska's "bridges to nowhere" -- which were obtained by a Republican congressman essentially as pork. Total cost, roughly $1/2 billion. One of them "connects an island with 50 residents", although it's actually the island on which the mainland town's airport stands; the other would allow peninsular Anchorage to cross the Cook Inlet and develop part of the mainland. I don't know why liberals have suddenly developed a jones against federal spending in this case, which seems to be the same case in principle being made for New Orleans. Anyway, it was quickly dropped since it was simply unlikely that Congress would really start slashing pork on behalf of Katrina relief spending. Whose ox is being gored, apparently, remains important.

You can always make a case against federal spending in a specific case because by definition specific cases are usually not federal in import. However I think you could argue here that the bridges are a link in the national transportation infrastructure.

That is, in fact, the precise argument. Bridge and highway funding is through the periodic federal funding acts: ISTEA, TEA-21, now SAFETEA. The USDOT shares with Congress its preferences for projects deserving federal funding, but Congress infamously micromanages the list. It's one of the favorite pork processing plays. The DOT is supposed to have strict criteria through designating US highways and feeder routes, but generally any huge project is going to be "justified" as a route for truck deliveries or whatnot. If it's big enough in the first place, after all, it gets enough traffic ...
posted by dhartung at 4:05 PM on October 19, 2005

Plus most of the funding will be federal- last time I checked Texas got more fed dollars than they paid.
posted by fshgrl at 8:11 PM on October 19, 2005

The problem is this: when a "signature bridge" is erected, it usually already gets plenty of attention simply for its location. I'm thinking of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Peace Bridge (Buffalo, NY-Fort Erie, Ont.), Rainbow Bridge (Niagara Falls NY-Niagara Falls, Ont.), Ambassador Bridge (Detroit-Windsor, Ont.), the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Golden Gate. All these bridges are either spans over a great body of water, or a major international boundary and therefore the "front door" of a country. Bridges like that should be flashy.

But the Trinity River in Dallas is just about invisible as a geographical feature. It is not a great expanse, despite the lakes they want to make out of it; it is not a border that separates anything from anything. It is merely an inconvenence that is in the way and needs to be bridged. Any standard interstate bridge will do. No one is going to feel they've "entered Dallas" by crossing this bridge; by the time they get to the bridge they've already been in Dallas for a half hour (more if traffic is heavy).

I live in neighboring Fort Worth, and Dallas may set the mood for what happens hear afterward. There is already talk of a "Trinity River Plan" for Fort Worth. If all the development money is built on making utilitarian things pretty and not on getting the fullest use out of the money, the money will be wasted, regardless of whether public or private funding is involved.
posted by Doohickie at 8:37 PM on October 19, 2005

i second punkfloyd. anyway, that project will never happen.
posted by centrs at 8:43 PM on October 19, 2005

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