Monday, February 9, 2009

Enduring value

This is a rubbing taken from a sidewalk near our studio in Pawtucket. These markers can be found all over Rhode Island, on bridges, underpasses, piers, in state parks and in town squares. Many of these markers are found on modest public works like sidewalks, easily taken for granted. No reason why we shouldn't take them for granted, but consider that these constructions have been serving us for 70+ years. How do you measure the return on such an investment? How many lives have been saved by a railroad underpass? What kind of dollar figure can be put on a stand of trees planted by the CCC? What is a sidewalk worth to a neighborhood? Can one honestly say that the money spent during the Depression was just stolen from future generations who got nothing in return?

Our sidewalk here is still in good condition but many of these projects are reaching the end of their service. We could do well to emulate the eduring legacy these WPA plaques represent. It is remarkable that many of the people who criticize this type of public investment are the very same people who thought it was a good idea to airlift pallets of cash into Iraq, money never to be seen again.

Let's spend the People's money on the People and do some nation (re)building here at home.

For more on the WPA and the New Deal I point you to Nick Taylor's book: American Made.

Want to voice your opinion on the stimulus program? Call the Congressional switchboard:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dr. Downtown needs a chill pill

The RISD Chace Center... Providence Journal critic David Brussat has taken a few not unexpected shots at this building, in fact he has been downright mean. His assessment is neither thoughtful nor well argued but he does write for the state's only major newspaper and so it is difficult to ignore his self-absorbed ramblings. In short, his criticism boils down to something to the effect of: "this facade doesn't fit my narrow idea of beauty, therefore it is junk." This is his basic boilerplate. Sometimes, as was the case with the Chace Center, he adds this nifty addendum: "anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool, oh and by the way, the emperor seems to be naked." Well, Dr. Downtown is wrong again, but don't take my word for it. Other more qualified critics have weighed in with favorable reviews but don't just take their words either. Keep an open mind and go see it for yourself: walk around the outside of building, go up the stairs, explore the terrace and the other interesting public spaces on the way to Benefit street. By all means go inside! Check out the galleries and look out the windows. If you do that you will have done much more than Brusset took the trouble to do.