How do you solve a problem like Edifice Complex?
The New York City subway system just got more expensive on Sunday. Service is also getting worse as a 110 year old system that was cobbled together over the course of decades buckles under the pressure of handling 5 or 6 million riders daily.
Andrew Cuomo does not seem fond or willing to spend the money that is required to update and modernize the subway system though. He called MTA’s capital plan “bloated” and his main concerns are for the necessary updating of the Tappan Zee bridge and the very unnecessary creation of an AirTrain to take people from a subway stop to LaGaurdia airport.
The MTA argues that the Capital Plan is necessary and will go to replacing cars and tracks, updating the signal system, and working on the next phase of the Second Avenue subway which will help relieve congestion on the East Side of Manhattan from the overcrowded 4,5,6 lines. For non-New Yorkers, the 4, 5, and 6 lines handle most of the subway traffic on the East Side of New York and it only goes up Lexington Avenue which traditionally marked the start of the East Side of Manhattan. Building a Second Avenue subway, would allow people who lived between 3rd and 1st Avenues, a closer walk to the subway and help create more space on the 4,5, and 6 lines. By contrast, the West Side of Manhattan has subway lines that go up and down 6th Avenue (D,M,F,V), 7th Avenue (1,2, and 3), and 8th Avenue (A, C, and E).
Sadly I think that Cuomo is likely to win on this and the NYC Subway is likely to lose out. The NYC Subway is not the only system that is rapidly aging and needs a serious increase in funding. Boston’s system has been been seriously damaged especially because of their very horrible winter.
I think there are a few reasons for this. One is that there seems to be something in the American DNA that creates a love-hate relationship with big cities. We depend on them economically but we hate them and big players like NYC or LA or SF get more hate than most. Upstate New York would be in even tougher economic decline if it weren’t for NYC but the MTA is controlled by New York State’s government and not NYC’s government and this always creates budget woes even if the Republican Senate conference is dominated by suburbanites whose voters take the Long Island Rail Road or Metro North to the City for work and recreation and this is almost certainly going to require a subway ride too. Many people don’t get to get off at Penn Station or Grand Central and then walk to work.
The other problem is that our politicians and other elite leaders and rich people always tend to suffer from Edifice Complex. It is always more sexy and attractive to build something new than to do updating and upkeep. There are very few chances for photoops for modernizing signal systems or chances to place your name or others on things. There are also very few lucrative contracts to reward. Building an Airtrain requires hiring engineers, inspectors, construction companies, and other things which leads to jobs, jobs, jobs, and helping your donors. Buying new trains and tracks, requires placing orders with companies that are already in existence and jobs and projects already in existence.
This is not something that is unique to politics, edifice complex seems to infect all sorts of organizations. Colleges and Universities have an edifice complex for building new gyms and fancy dorms while underpaying adjunct faculty and relying more and more on adjunct faculty. The Performing Arts also seems to be the victim of edifice complex. I went to a dance performance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts yesterday and noticed that there was a plaque that said “Staircase was funded by….” It was nice staircase but I wonder why it feels better to fund something physical over underwriting more performances that would create more opportunities for audiences to see interesting performance troupes. The Flea Theater in New York is building a shiny new theatre while relying on unpaid actors for their performances. The Public Theatre needed to cancel a performance of the critically acclaimed Fun Home because they spent money on their lobby and could not afford an understudy.
This seems to be a constant issue for humanity and the person who comes up with the answer and a solution to edifice complex will deserve a Noble Prize of some sort. If he or she can’t be fit into an existing category, we should create a new one though I think Peace and Economics will work well. Why is it that we are so adverse to the unsexy worlds of upkeep and just want to build new things. Why can’t we put up with a shabby lobby and spend money on salaries for people?