4.12.19

LEAD US NOT INTO PENN STATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM WISE EXPERTS.

Brown University public policy researcher Marc J. Dunkelman offers a lengthy analysis of all the ways in which New York's Pennsylvania Station was ruined and yet cannot be put back together.
Penn Station is the second most heavily trafficked transit hub in the world, trailing only Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. The station serves more daily passengers than the region’s three huge airports (Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark) combined. More people pass through Penn each weekday than live in the city of Baltimore. Anyone who has passed through Penn Station over the past half-century—or who passed through it this Thanksgiving weekend—knows that the nation’s busiest transit center is a national embarrassment, a hole in the ground where the food is ratty and the waiting rooms are sparse.

For more than a generation, New York’s most important gateway has been a grimy relic. Powerful figures in New York, Albany and Washington have plotted for more than three decades to redevelop the whole complex into a world-class facility. But time and again, their efforts have faltered. Today, after 30 years of talk, the station is poised for an upgrade, but the plans are less elaborate than the ones that were announced last decade. And even when the current work is complete, the station will require still more renovation just to be considered a modern facility.
There's a lot to digest in the article, it comes down to the absence of anyone with the vision of Alexander J. Cassatt and the drive of J. Edgar Thomson. "But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. "  It's another inheritance from the truly most destructive generation of the modern era, the process-worshippers of the Silent Generation.  "Since the 1970s, even as progressives have championed Big Government, they’ve worked tirelessly to put new checks on its power—to pull it away from imperious technocrats who might use government to bulldoze hapless communities. "  It's enough to make a Marxist giggle (a phrase that I lifted from Trains editor David P. Morgan, who noted the rigamarole strangling Commuter Rail service in New York in the late 1950s.)

Mr Dunkelman is still a believer in the power of Governance by Wise Experts.  "To rebuild faith in the power of government to do good, responsible leaders need the power to pursue the public interest."  I fear, though, that he has really made the case that the best thing for the Wise Experts to do is to go away.

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