The renewed focus on the Port Authority, specifically the Port Authority building in midtown Manhattan, was probably set off partly by the ongoing shenanigans of folks in and around the Port Authority and the brilliant John Oliver. Who makes some points (really, Port Authority?-ceasing and desisting Fishs Eddy?), but is, in fact, a young whippersnapper in terms of NYC whinging.
As is WNYC.
Yeah, the Port Authority is pretty terrible, but it is far from Hell. And it is far from where it was in the 80s. Maybe that's why I have trouble with these headlines. I try not to say this too often, but if you didn't visit/live in NYC inthe 1970s and 80s, you don't really have a clue about how hellish public spaces could get. Sometimes I just sit in Bryant Park and rub my eyes with my fists like a little kid: am I dreaming? Are the Greenmarket vendors at Union Square all actors? Did Will Smith just buy Washington Square Park and turn it into a movie set? Is this real life?
I have big fantasies about taking a crew of my favorite civic hackers in there, and just data/physically improve the building in a long weekend. Cardboard signs! Putting somebody on the second floor to answer questions! QR codes people could scan to get more information! Tweaks! Just to give a tiny vision of what the Port Authority could be doing NOW.
Here's what the Port Authority also is: There's a great blood donation center there (don't mock, there is) with cheerful staff and cheerful donors. And as crazy as their Au Bon Pain can be at commuter rush times, their wi-fi has been a life saver when I've had to do a quick online meeting. I've had a wonderful conversation with a postal worker (yes, there's a post office there, too) about Shirley Chisholm. And if you slow down, notice the rotating art gallery on the first floor of the south building, which has included art by two artists on the autism spectrum for the past two years.
Today, as a part of my job, I was lucky enough to read and re-read documents about the New Deal, a group of programs put into effect by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression.
William Gropper - Construction of a Dam 1939
In 1933, years after the stock market crash, one in four Americans was out of work. You can find out more on this wonderful website, the Living New Deal. The New Deal programs put many of those Americans to work building or rebuilding our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, hospitals, city halls, highways. You can look at the breadth and, yes, the majesty of the New Deal projects on this map. It looks like the United States has a glorious case of the measles.
The New Deal also acknowledged that people who make art--writers, artists, playwrights, filmmakers--are also workers. They, too, were given jobs to do, put on salaries, put to work. Many of their works, especially murals in public buildings--celebrated the same huge projects that were being built all around them.
And the country recovered.
It's hard to imagine this happening today--even as we deal with the crumbling physical infrastructure of the United States, and a growing gap between the rich and poor. Even more, the idea that artists are workers, too, responsible for the spiritual infrastructure of a country.
Stopped by a local Hell's Kitchen joint to get batteries put in a couple of watches I own, including a bright pink slappy bracelet watch which, to be honest, was a steal--and I never wear it. The woman next to me watched me fiddle with my mobile phone. "How long did it take you to learn how to do that?" she asked.
She was turning 74 at the end of the week. We had a longer discussion about mobile phones, and I suggested that she might want to get some kind of mobile to stay in touch with her family. "I'm the last," she said. Not sadly. Just: facts. It turned out that /her/ watch needed some major repairs, and that she would be without her watch for at least the next few hours. I offered the pink watch. She said she would return it. I put it on her wrist. "I can really read the numbers!" she said. "Please, keep it," I said. She smiled. "Happy birthday to me!"