The presidential candidates filled an hour and a half during the debates last week, but not once did they mention the words “city” or “cities.” OK, they didn’t say “pineapple” or “piglets” either. But a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau points out that 84 percent of Americans live in metropolitan statistical areas, and another 10 percent live in what are called “micropolitan” statistical areas ( towns of 10,000 to 50,000 people), you’d think that President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney would have something to say about the crisis affecting them.
And what is that crisis? The American Cities Project, an effort of the Pew Charitable Trusts, put it this way: “While states slowly recover in the wake of the Great Recession, local governments have been hit with a one-two punch: State aid and property taxes, which together account for more than half of local revenues, are dropping simultaneously for the first time since 1980. The blow comes as demand for government services rises, driven by stubborn unemployment rates, population growth, and other factors.”
Metro- and micropolitan governments have responded in the only way they can: by cutting services, for school, police, trash pick-up, park maintenance and 911 services. Unless you live in a gated enclave of Utopia and never have to leave, you’ve probably been affected by the diminished capacity of towns and cities to do their job.
It would have been more helpful if Jim Lehrer — instead of demanding “what are the differences between you and Governor Romney/President Obama on (fill in the blank)?” — had asked the two candidates whether they have any ideas that would slow down or halt this downward spiral.
And about those architects
As I reported a couple of weeks ago, the architectural firm that will design the new Vikings stadium is HKS, a Dallas company whose claims to fame, in football at least, were stadia for the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts. The total they are to be paid is $34 million.
Here were the initial bids from the five competing firms:
Obviously, the contract did not go to the lowest bidder. Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen said that experience, particularly with retractable roofs, played a role in the selection. And, the company had to really, really want the job. Certainly, reducing its bid by nearly $8 million or 20 percent as HKS did shows pretty serious interest.
I have looked through the 109-page design services agreement and, considering everything that the architects are required to do and all the deadlines they’ll have to meet, $34 million doesn’t sound like much. Just the list of documents HKS has to produce ran 16 pages. And subcontracting activities it has to manage? They include what you’d expect, for example, plumbing and various kinds of engineering (electrical, civil, mechanical and structural), but also acoustic design, branding, designs to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, code compliance, experiential graphics (whatever they are), telecom design, concessions, merchandise and catering services, furniture and interior design, lighting, wind engineering, parking garages, traffic engineering and demographic studies.
That last is an effort to figure out whether Vikings fans will plump for licensed premium seating and suits, which, in New York sell for $1 million a year. I hope not. It doesn’t seem as though that would be in the spirit of a “People’s Stadium,” which is what our politicians have dubbed the project, which will cost taxpayers about $500 million not counting interest.
So far, all we’ve seen is HKS’s fantastical vision of the stadium, which seemed to eliminate a lot of buildings in the neighborhood (including the Star Tribune’s). But the contract requires delivery of concept design documents by Dec. 10 and schematic designs by March 4, 2013. Then we will really have something to chew over.
We can’t wait
Last week, I kind of pooh-poohed the president’s announcement that under the White House’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative, the Southwest light rail line would be “expedited.” I was disappointed that instead of showering us with money, this expediting amounted to nothing more than using “an enhanced coordination process” too allow multiple permit and review processes to work concurrently instead of sequentially.
James Oberstar, former DFL congressman from Minnesota’s 8th District until 2011 (when he was defeated by the GOP’s Chip Cravaack) and transportation expert in excelsis, took issue with that. Although he pointed out that only 1 percent of transportation projects over $50 million are “significantly delayed” by permits and reviews, “this is still a very good thing to do.”
The replacement of the I-35W bridge took just 437 days instead of the customary seven years partly because, says Oberstar, “we gathered everybody in one room at the beginning: the fish and wildlife people, the EPA, Environmental Quality, the state DNR, the counties, the Chippewa nation, and so on.” (Of course, the bridge replacement also took place with storied rapidity because of Oberstar’s legislative legerdemain in securing $250 million from the federal government to pay for construction.) With all the parties working together, Oberstar adds, the project is ready to rumble when the money finally comes in.