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January 27, 2009
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York

Mayor Bloomberg recalled those years in his State of the City speech: “Until recently, the New Deal and the 1930s seemed like a distant memory — something we read about in history books. But last year, when the sub-prime mortgage write-down became a global financial meltdown, the bank panics returned and today, more people are worried about losing their jobs, their savings, and their homes than at any time since the Great Depression… Time and again, the future of our city has been in doubt. Time and again, we have faced moments of truth. And each time, we have pulled together as New Yorkers and come out stronger, together.” He continued: “Our job is to help all those who are struggling — help improve their chances for a job, for keeping their homes, for making ends meet, and to do it all without new funding — because the city just doesn’t have the money. Instead, rather than spending new dollars, we have to redeploy resources and repurpose budgets — and we will.”

The reference to the Great Depression continued near the conclusion of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech: “Over the history of our city — no matter how severe the blow we’ve been dealt, no matter how uncertain the future — we have always found the strength and optimism to rise to new heights, as New Yorkers, together. No one better exemplifies that than the man who is responsible for building the college where we sit today: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We all know how in his first speech as President, FDR reminded us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. But you may not know that on the last full day of his life, he wrote this: ‘The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.'”

In the first speech as President given by Barack Obama, the echo of the Entente cordiale between LaGuardia’s NYC-resilience and Roosevelt’s New Deal will-power came across loud and clear: “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.”

It seemed to many in the audience of billions, as well as to commentators and bloggers that President Obama’s Inaugural Address was restrained rhetoric, not reaching for unrealizable goals nor raising unachievable expectations. In this regard it was a building program, not a rendering. It was detailed enough to serve as blueprint and specifications for the near future, for a fast-track start, a shovel in the ground.

In the first week of February, architects from around the nation will converge on Washington, DC, for the annual AIA Grassroots legislative and leadership conference at which issues are raised with Members of Congress and others in government. AIA President-elect George Miller, FAIA, an AIANY past-president, is leading this national conjunction under the banner of the acronym “VIA! AIA” for Vision, Influence, and Action. The AIA’s Rebuild and Renew policy statement is a call to action. We expect that it will find, this year, friendly ears.

One of the zingers about halfway through President Obama’s Inaugural Address last week was: “Know that your people will judge you on what you can build….” Let’s not be wanting.

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