Tectonic Shift

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 4, 2010

The High Line, Manhattan.

By tackling some of the most daunting problems of the city, landscape architects are rising to new prominence.

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Elizabeth Padjen: The last time ArchitectureBoston devoted an entire issue to landscape architecture was in 2003; our roundtable discussion was titled “Burying Olmsted.” At that time, much of the buzz in the profession was focused on what might be called the artful landscape: landscape cum art installation. But the participants in that roundtable also mentioned Millennium Park in West Roxbury — where soil from the Big Dig was used to cap an old landfill — as an example of cutting-edge thinking about ecological landscapes, and they bemoaned the lack of attention such projects were receiving. It’s astonishing to see how the profession has changed in just seven years — not only in terms of the kinds of projects that are gaining wide recognition, but also in terms of a new focus and a new energy. Terms such as landscape urbanism, ecological urbanism, and agricultural urbanism are now commonplace and are even leaking into the public lexicon. One of our editorial board members recently stated, “Landscape is suddenly the most relevant player.” Let’s start by talking about this new excitement. Where does it come from?

David Gamble: More and more, the public recognizes the fragility of the environment — look at the recent floods in Nashville and the oil spill in the Gulf. Part of the landscape profession’s rise to the top is due to the general recognition by the public that landscapes are living organisms and that we need to think very carefully about how we inhabit our environment. This increase in consciousness has helped landscape architecture play a much larger role in the public’s eye than it might have otherwise.

Laura Solano: Landscape architects are especially skilled in understanding systems, and that’s why we are deeply involved in this search for an ecologically responsible life. It’s easy to say that this focus has suddenly boiled up, but in fact, it’s been a long time coming. Frederick Law Olmsted, in the 19th century, understood systems perfectly; his talents were multivalent: he was a civil engineer, a surveyor, and an author, as well as a landscape architect. In the early to mid-20th century, Jens Jensen and Aldo Leopold were writing about these issues, but there wasn’t an audience. And then Ian McHarg blew the doors open in 1969 by introducing the idea of ecological planning.

Wendi Goldsmith: Olmsted espoused the merit of Central Park long before other people ever imagined today’s development pressures. Yet he rallied people behind a vision and was very clear about doing it for reasons of air quality, exercise, civic interaction, and creating a shared space that would reinforce community. His design of Boston’s Emerald Necklace was intended to solve some very practical stormwater flooding management problems. Both projects place landscape architecture at the foundation of what we now call sustainable community design.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: The public has long understood that landscape architects work with living elements. But a recent and significant shift is that we are starting to realize that cities are also living organisms, so the systematic thinking that has been part of the landscape discipline is now being translated to new strategies for the urban condition as well.

Jill Desimini: And of course, landscape architects bring an understanding of people and the designed experience. That means they are skilled at making spaces that work for their inhabitants that also address the complexities of urban, ecological, and infrastructural systems.


Simcoe and Rees WaveDecks, Toronto.

Simcoe and Rees WaveDecks, Toronto, part of a series of three multifunctional public walkways along the waterfront. Designer: West 8 + DTAH. Photos © West 8 urban design & landscape architecture.

Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Elizabeth Padjen: The tectonic plates of the design professions seem to be shifting. I wonder if the rise of landscape architecture means that something has changed in the ligatures that tie the professions together or if it’s evidence of fundamental differences in the ways that the disciplines respond to the challenges of the world today.

David Gamble: It’s partly because of the vacuum created by the departure of the architects. Architects haven’t been thinking about larger-scale connections and about relationships to key topographic and environmental conditions or special places in cities in which the landscape is really what’s most valued. Landscape architects have found a way to take over much of that territory by engaging themselves directly in those issues.

Jill Desimini: We like to think of projects as functioning in many ways — socially, economically, environmentally — apart from how they look. Of course, many architects do, too. But, having been trained in both architecture and landscape architecture, I would say there is a real difference in the complexity of the landscape medium and the ways in which landscape architects think about how various systems might come together. A good example is the project by Stoss for the Lower Don River in Toronto. A traditional urban-design approach might have considered the river as an entity to be squeezed into an urban fabric. Instead, Stoss asked, What does this kind of river need in order to function? The designers weren’t trying to adapt it to the city fabric and then figure out how to deal with the flooding that comes later. The challenge became how to structure the city and the neighborhood around the river. If you give the river the kind of mouth that it needs, if you understand that you’ll have fluctuating water levels, then you start to think in terms of different types of land use and you can start to develop a set of performance criteria both for the river and for the neighborhood and open spaces. Various elements start to work on multiple levels but also together in a unified, sustainable whole.

Laura Solano: The example of designing for fluctuating water levels underscores an important distinction between architecture and landscape architecture, which is that architecture usually doesn’t have to deal with something that is inherent to landscape: change, which is the driver for all natural systems, for better or worse. The arc of time and change are fundamentally different factors in the landscape design process.

The emphasis in landscape urbanism should be on the urbanism. Jill Desimini

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Something that makes landscape architecture particularly resonant right now is its verb-like quality, in comparison with some earlier, more architecture-oriented urban models, like New Urbanism — all very intelligent, but really about organizing a city or town around a more static structure. Contemporary landscape architecture is much more interested in the systems and the forces and the flows, so it is a more active approach toward designing landscapes and urban systems. As we start to re-recognize that we are connected to the larger ecological world, we realize we need a model that can respond to an ever-changing world, not just one in crisis.

Wendi Goldsmith: I think that’s right. The whole green design movement started with a focus on energy systems within the building: insulation and the efficiency of HVAC systems. And then, bit by bit, it grew to include water use, glazing, building positioning, which then evolved into new ideas about things like light and lighting, water conservation and reuse, and integrating graywater management with building plumbing. Fairly quickly, sustainable design started to bleed into the landscape and to encompass infrastructure, including power generation, and people began to understand that it’s not just about the building and what goes on inside it: We need to look at what goes on outside, on site, and what goes on beyond the site. Now we’re thinking about buildings in relation to the grid, to watersheds, and to water supplies. What I am observing is a new relationship, maybe eventually a new field, where science and engineering and landscape design all merge. Our society is just beginning to recognize the value in such an approach.


The Connecticut Water Treatment Facility in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Connecticut Water Treatment Facility in New Haven, Connecticut, contributes to a larger ecological and open-space system. Steven Holl Architects. Photo by Paul Warchol.

Urban Design and Landscape Architecture

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Landscape typologies have evolved to a fair degree, and landscape architects today feel that they can take on a much larger territory than was their traditional purview: designs for entire regions or decommissioned airports or large post-industrial sites or whole infrastructure projects. That’s by necessity, because landscape systems don’t end at the property line. I always have a hard time making the distinction between landscape architecture and urban design, probably because I’ve been trained in both fields, but I think that is one area where they are different: It’s very hard to put a circle around what defines a landscape.

Elizabeth Padjen: Is the landscape architect encroaching on the traditional turf of the urban designer? Do you envision the end of urban design as a discipline, perhaps being absorbed by landscape architecture?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: That could be a very politically dangerous idea to agree or disagree with, depending on your perspective. Clearly, both disciplines will continue to evolve. I just finished teaching what turned out to be a very exciting studio. It was called an urban design project, but it addressed landscape, ecology, and environmental dynamics. The project site was on a floodplain with a daily tidal fluctuation of about six feet; we also projected an additional rising water level of six feet over 100 years. So the students had to think simultaneously about accommodating fluctuating water levels and about creating urbanism. Typically, when we think of zoning, we think of it in a horizontal way, or as vertical envelopes of height limits. But the most critical aspect of this project was the first 10 feet of the city. The challenge was to design that sectional relationship intelligently, to foster a vibrant urban life on a ground plain that must accommodate so much natural variation.

Architects haven’t been thinking about larger-scale connections and relationships to topographic and environmental conditions. Landscape architects have found a way to take over much of that territory. David Gamble AIA, AICP

David Gamble: The design professions in general have done themselves a disservice in trying to delineate distinct territories and in believing that a project needs to begin with the urban planner, then go to the urban designer, then the architect, then the landscape architect, and so on. That type of linear thinking is one reason why we haven’t been able to foster strong interdisciplinary collaborations. Major design competitions around the world now tend to be dominated by teams including very diverse disciplines, such as landscape architects, planners, economists, and historic preservation architects, because there is so much interdisciplinary discussion that needs to occur when you look at complex urban areas. I do think that the architecture profession today has much greater respect for a landscape architect’s sense of process than it did a generation ago. The work I’m doing in China now as an architect is entirely in the service of a landscape-architecture firm that is planning large regions of the country. It’s a scenario that stems in part from the client’s intuitive understanding of the nature of their ecosystems and the desire to work with their natural settings, which requires the landscape architect’s understanding of geography and place.

Laura Solano: And that’s not an unusual scenario anymore. Clients are unbelievably sophisticated now, and they do their homework in terms of the composition of the teams they hire. In my office, we are the prime for about 80 percent of our work, big and small. Many of our teams have 12 or 15 consultants, often representing narrow areas of expertise: planners, architects, historians, ecologists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and biologists. Strong collaborations offer tremendous educational opportunities.


Teardrop Park at Battery Park City, Manhattan.

Teardrop Park at Battery Park City, Manhattan, incorporates organic soils and uses graywater and stormwater for irrigation. Landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Photo by Paul Warchol.

Landscape Urbanism

Elizabeth Padjen: Landscape urbanism is at least partly responsible for the profession’s new energy. What exactly does it mean?

Laura Solano: Charles Waldheim, who is now the chair of the department of landscape architecture at Harvard, coined the term. He has said: “Landscape urbanism describes a disciplinary realignment currently underway, in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism.”

Elizabeth Padjen: That’s a shot across the bow. What are some examples?

Jill Desimini: I’d like to respond first by saying that at the core of landscape urbanism is the idea that looking at, understanding, and designing urban processes will lead to making a new kind of city that is capable both of self-regenerating and of changing the way we experience the place we live. The emphasis in landscape urbanism should be on the urbanism. With that in mind, I would point to Toronto, which has hired a number of landscape architects as leads for very big projects that are changing that city, especially the waterfront. These include West 8’s reconfiguration of the central waterfront, work by Field Operations on Lake Ontario Park, and the design by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates for the Lower Don Lands as a new metropolitan precinct. Landscape architects are also working on large projects in other cities. New York’s Freshkills Park project — the transformation of 2,200 acres of landfill on Staten Island into a new public park and urban habitat by Field Operations — is another example of an innovative approach to revitalizing and repurposing a piece of the urban fabric. The key now is to focus even more on the design of the city itself. Landscape urbanism positions landscape and landscape methods as a driver for urban infrastructural change.

David Gamble: Part of the momentum also comes from the shifting economics of cities. More and more cities over the last generation have been looking to old industrial sites or waterfronts as places to grow; large parks become the catalysts that drive economic redevelopment.

Elizabeth Padjen: But the idea of landscape, particularly in the form of public parks and open spaces, as a catalyst for development isn’t new. You can even find it codified in the 16th-century Spanish Laws of the Indies that was the basis for town planning in the Spanish colonies: put the square in the middle of the town and build out around it. What’s different?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Landscape urbanism takes another approach — more profound in some ways — and looks at a larger force, a river, for example, as a generator of urban form and urban typology.

Jill Desimini: David is right that many cities are revitalizing industrial sites, and a lot of them are on waterfronts and thus have an ecological component. The difference is that landscape urbanism starts with looking at these sites in terms of the environmental systems that can serve as generators for the project.

Laura Solano: It’s about healing: taking derelict or brownfield sites and making them useful. We take a piece of land that nobody cares about any more, and turn it into something that people can identify as a place that has personal meaning and community value.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: I think it’s important to not conflate landscape and parks. It’s true that the idea of building a public park that is a catalyst for development is an old trick. But only part of landscape is parks. Part of it is plazas. Part of it is open space. And part of it is the system of stormwater management that gets built into our streets, into our yards, into our housing units. What is exciting about landscape urbanism is that it can define new types of space that not only accommodate ecological systems, but also define ways that we as individuals can relate to landscape and to ourselves in different ways.

Wendi Goldsmith: Not long ago, the words “landscape urbanism” would have sounded like an oxymoron. We worked on a project recently with Laura’s firm and with the architect Steve Holl that is a perfect example of this change in thinking. This project involves brownfields restoration, a large public-works facility including a major green-roof project, the preservation of some public open space, and programming that includes a significant public education and events component — all while making very tangible contributions to natural habitats in the south-central Connecticut region. It completely merges architecture and engineering and landscape architecture. I can’t think of any earlier examples in the US with the same level of interdisciplinary entanglement. The hydrology of the site accommodates these major functional components, but reverts the site back to its pre-development “water budget” in terms of its hydrological performance. So there’s this incredible melding of function and beauty and education that also transforms a stigmatized landscape into something that sets the stage for a new pattern of development in the region.


The Schools

David Gamble: A number of design schools have been very strategic about raising the profile of landscape architecture within the school, which is reverberating within the field itself. More landscape-architecture programs are opening up, in part because some leaders in the profession are finding ways to excite a new generation of students who want to shape the physical environment. They’re raising the profile of the profession from within the academic community.

Elizabeth Padjen: Conversely, the schools must also be responding to a market interest.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: All of us who are in academia know that it’s the students who are really driving the sustainability agenda. No question about it. And that generation’s interest in the environment is one of the really big pushes behind recognizing, first of all, that our world isn’t static and, second, that we need to find a different way of working with it instead of against it.

Laura Solano: One of my students gave a presentation on a recent project in Korea that turned 600 acres of landfill into a park. The park ended up as a reflection of the trash pile: it was essentially a pyramid with the top cut off. This student’s discussion centered around what might have happened instead if a landscape architect had been involved from the beginning: there would have been a grading plan for placing trash, there would have been systems to promote decomposition, and the nearby wetlands would have been engineered to support a river watershed. These kinds of issues capture the attention of students; they know that there are huge problems to solve, and they know the answers lie in innovation.


Rose Kennedy Greenway

Elizabeth Padjen: Let’s say that, instead of having just been completed, the Greenway project is just now in the concept phase and the initial planning has been undertaken by a team of landscape urbanists. What are some of the substantive changes we’d be seeing?

Shauna Gillies-Smith: One obvious answer is that there would be a very clear, probably somewhat artful but potentially also didactic, approach to stormwater, so that one would actually see how water is moved and treated. We would probably also see some form of urban agriculture — not necessarily community gardens, but perhaps some form of urban foraging.

David Gamble: I suspect that the engineering for the tunnels would be done in the service of a much larger vision of connectivity and continuity. Whatever you think about whether or not there should be development along the Greenway, there is still a very painful sense that it is not as robust in its role as it should be.

It is important to recognize the significance of the constructed landscape. Most people think of landscape as the backyard garden or the national parks. Shauna Gillies-Smith ASLA

Jill Desimini: It could perform in so many different ways. It could even have a greater social or economic agenda. Right now, it’s very neutral, and there’s nothing very neutral about a landscape-urbanist vision.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: Thinking of it as a landscape in isolation — what you would do to decorate the top of the tunnel — is fundamentally not a landscape-urbanist approach. Thinking of the whole tunnel and the buildings along each edge in conjunction with the landscape, ecology, and the social program is much more appropriate to a landscape-urbanist approach.

Laura Solano: There have been so many disastrous tries at linking architecture and landscape along the Greenway; it suffers for a lack of integration. But I’m convinced that, over time, it’s going to be redone, because we know it’s not right. The Greenway Conservancy is doing some useful and valuable things, like organic maintenance and developing a tree farm to supply trees for the Greenway, but management can’t fix the things that are inherently wrong with it.

Wendi Goldsmith: This is a case where some of the most important concerns were put last on the list. Lots of people other than landscape architects, let alone landscape urbanists, were calling the shots. And so, many other aspects of the project crystallized before there was actually anything resembling a final program for how the Greenway would operate, or how it would look and function.

David Gamble: The Greenway has served a purpose of sorts. All across the country, cities are facing similar problems of deteriorating highways and infrastructure and are recognizing the value of trying, even at a smaller scale, to take advantage of new opportunities to reconnect their cities. Other cities will learn some lessons from what happened in Boston and try to do it in a more synthetic way.

Elizabeth Padjen: If we were to re-do the Greenway now, I suspect we would keep part of the superstructure of the old Artery and rework it as an artifact or walkway.

Laura Solano: I agree with you. There was something sublime about driving up over the city streets.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: That sublime quality is one of the appeals of New York’s High Line, along with a nostalgia for the big old industrial superstructure as you’re floating through the city. And the elements are beautiful: the furniture is beautiful, the planking is clever and smart, and the planting is rich and a strong contrast to the more controlled environment. There’s no question that the High Line would have influenced thinking about the opportunities for the Greenway.


Burying Olmsted, Again

Shauna Gillies-Smith: I want to re-visit the idea of burying Olmsted, because it is important to recognize the significance of the constructed landscape. Part of the interest for me in the High Line isn’t so much the aesthetic of it, although it’s an amazing place, but that it calls into question what landscape is, and it calls into question the naturalization of landscape. When most people think of landscape, they usually think of the backyard garden or the national-park backgrounds in TV ads for SUVs. But by recognizing that what we are creating in both our green spaces and our hard spaces is a constructed landscape, we are held to a different standard. Our roads are landscape: they are designed landscapes. Our sidewalks, our traffic medians, our rooftops are designed landscapes. We learn to ignore them. But there is a lot of economic and design investment in all of those elements. The importance of burying Olmsted is that we need to recognize that our landscape is completely constructed, and that consequently, both our landscape and our work as designers must be held accountable.

Top: The High Line, the transformation of a 1.45-mile-long elevated freight rail line into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side. Designers: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo by M. Altamura.

A Bridge to Somewhere

Posted in Vol 12 No 4 by bsaab on November 9, 2009


The Case for a National Infrastructure Policy

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Filling potholes and making trains run on time is not enough.

Elizabeth Padjen: Over the last year, infrastructure has become associated in the public mind with the federal stimulus package and, as a result, the phrase “shovel-ready” has become the measure of good infrastructure or, at least, infrastructure that we’ll support. Which means that timing is the real yardstick for determining what gets built. That is obviously not a good way to make policy, nevertheless it seems to be what’s driving the public discussion right now. Do you detect any real impetus or any real desire to develop a cohesive infrastructure policy?

Jeffrey Simon: The stimulus program is not just an indication of infrastructure policy — it was driven by a different goal: creating and retaining jobs. The decision to fund shovel-ready projects was a means to an entirely different end, the end being getting people back to work quickly. It was completely divorced from whether infrastructure had any inherent value or not. A lot of people say to me, “Why are you spending all this money on a bunch of paving projects?” It’s an absolutely legitimate question for everyone except for the unemployed person who now has a job paving roads. In that person’s mind, that’s a completely legitimate project. But even though this was conceived as a jobs program, each of the projects itself has value.

Hubert Murray: Just as taxes are supposed to be the price of civilization, I think infrastructure is the cement that holds our civilization together. The crisis in infrastructure — the disrepair — is a manifestation of a lack of faith in our public realm, which we had in the past, say, in the 1930s, when money went to the construction of highways and dams and electrical grids. That issue, which is both political and philosophical, has to be addressed before we can even begin to talk about the nature of the infrastructure that we need to hold us together or how to pay for it.

Elizabeth Padjen: A couple of years ago, Sarah, you wrote an essay for The New Republic that I still think is one of the smartest pieces about infrastructure that I’ve read. It appeared right after the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the Con Edison steam pipe bursting in New York. You said, “Infrastructure is one crucial point at which politics and architecture merge.” Nothing’s really happened since you wrote that piece.

Sarah Williams Goldhagen: That’s not exactly true; a lot has actually happened. The tagline of my article, which I had nothing to do with, was “Making Infrastructure Sexy.” And now infrastructure is part of the public discussion. But it’s all about putting fingers in dikes — the shovel-ready projects that are connected to stimulus. The Obama administration has lots of good intentions, but I don’t see anyone articulating what steps need to be taken to realize the goals that most people agree are necessary for a humane 21st-century urbanism: denser communities, pedestrianfriendly development, and multiple, overlapping, regional transportation systems incorporating air, fast rail, and automobile.

I think Hubert is right — nobody has faith in the public realm. But a larger issue is that the infrastructure problems we now have cannot be solved by the current political system, which is balkanized into municipalities and state systems and the federal system. Infrastructural problems now are regional: they cross municipal and state lines. That means that discussions about infrastructure must include not only big visions but also concrete plans for implementation.


Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.

David Luberoff: “Infrastructure” is a word that really didn’t come into play until the ’80s; before then, we had what was called “public works.” It’s very hard to get people excited about infrastructure, because it’s a conceptual word. But there are elements of infrastructure that people really like: people love trains, people love bridges. We lose something when we talk about infrastructure, although the word does capture the sense of these networks and systems that bind us together.

Sarah’s right that they’re a hodgepodge not only at different levels of government but also between public and private sectors. The telecommunications infrastructure is almost purely private, subject to public regulation, somewhat similar to electrical infrastructure. The transportation infrastructure is a mix — we provide the roads, but the cars are privately owned; we provide airports for private airlines. On the other hand, outside of the Northeast Corridor, publicly owned Amtrak trains generally use privately owned tracks.

Infrastructure is critical to regional economic development, and there’s a long history in the United States of trying to figure out whether this is a national or a regional responsibility. For the most part, we’ve regionalized most of the important forms of infrastructure, such as roads, airports, sewage treatment. But I suspect we’ll never create a cohesive regional infrastructure system, because in the American political system, we tend to solve problems one at a time. So when a crisis emerges, the response tends to be to turn it over to a regional entity, and often to govern it in such a way that is supposed to remove it from day-to-day politics by creating authorities, such as Massport, to run airports, or the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, to run water and wastewater treatment systems.

Elizabeth Padjen: One of the most enduring symbols of infrastructure implemented on the national level is the interstate highway system, which may also represent the last time there was a significant national focus on infrastructure. If we think of infrastructure as providing some kind of public good that will support economic activity and health and welfare for all of the people, are we working off old definitions and an outdated understanding of infrastructure? We now have new technologies that weren’t even imagined when the highway system was developed.

David Lazer: You just said the last big national effort was the highway system, but what about the Internet? Doesn’t that qualify as infrastructure? I’d say absolutely yes. Obviously, it’s revolutionary, but what makes it especially interesting in this discussion is its potential interplay with more traditional forms of infrastructure. For example, it allows us to collect information in a very decentralized fashion so we can use our existing infrastructure more efficiently or develop a new infrastructure that is smarter. We talk about having a smarter electricity grid. Well, one way of dealing with peak load, rather than building more electricity plants, is to program everyone’s thermostats to be sensitive to peak loads so they’ll all turn off when it’s really hot. Similarly, we can now track road use, which can lead to more efficient transportation systems. And the SENSEable City Lab at MIT has developed devices to understand trash flow. There’s a growing effort to apply data-driven processes to the use and design of infrastructure.

David Luberoff: In addition to the Internet, I would mention the parallel construction of the cellular telephone system. It has had obvious implications for traditional infrastructure, but also tremendous implications for where people are in space and time. If we are always connected, that is probably as powerfully transformative as a lot of traditional infrastructure, whether the automobile/highway system or the mass transit system. It’s less obvious because we don’t see it.

David Lazer: That’s right. With an iPhone, you have the Internet and GPS in your pocket. Suddenly people can interact with infrastructure in entirely different ways. They are more actively involved in decision-making on the personal level, such as where to drive or when to turn on the air-conditioning at home, as well as simply reporting information.

Hubert Murray: We need to think about why we are building infrastructure in the first place. The examples you’re giving of modern technology as infrastructure represent an infrastructure that supports individuation. These are centrifugal forces in society, whereas a couple of generations ago, we were talking about bridges, highways, tunnels, even airports, that brought us together as a society. Is it any coincidence that this beautiful object, the iPhone, is blossoming simultaneously with the collapse of our common infrastructure, our bridges and our tunnels and our streets?

Infrastructure both opens up and closes down opportunities. If it’s working well, infrastructure provides equal access to resources. If it’s not working well, it funnels access to resources to certain segments of society and closes out opportunities for other folks. Anne Whiston Spirn FASLA

David Luberoff: I would argue that the bridges and roads were a decentralizing force in their time. There was this new technology — the automobile. The car was the iPhone of its time — the technology that everybody wanted.

Anne Whiston Spirn: It’s not just the focus on the individual cell phone as opposed to bridges and highways, but the focus on the individual cell phone as opposed to the public telephones that used to exist throughout our cities and towns. Have you tried to find one lately? A lot of people can’t afford a cell phone. Infrastructure both opens up and closes down opportunities. If it’s working well, infrastructure provides equal access to resources. If it’s not working well, it funnels access to resources to certain segments of society and closes out opportunities for other folks. We see that especially in communication infrastructure, with access to high-speed Internet in some parts of the country and not in others, and even within some city neighborhoods but not others. Which means that certain kinds of economic activity are not going to occur in the areas that are not well-served.

Elizabeth Padjen: The Rural Electrification Project in this country was at some level a social-justice exercise, providing federal funding in support of a national goal to be implemented locally by private electrical companies. Today we largely leave the new technology networks to private enterprise, in terms of decisions about location, markets, and coverage. I have an aunt who lives just outside Madison, Wisconsin, and has dial-up service. It drives her crazy. Verizon is bringing 4G service to Boston and Seattle — logical rollout cities, from a private enterprise point of view — but when is that ever going to get to my aunt?

Jeffrey Simon: You don’t even have to go that far. Massachusetts has submitted an application under the Recovery Act to bring broadband technology to the western part of the state. Broadband is in place as far out as Route 91, but beyond that, as soon as you leave the Mass Pike, there’s nothing. There’s no G, let alone 4G. It’s shocking, especially when you think about schools and fire and police and hospitals. It’s one thing to talk about promoting medical e-records, but if you have no way to get them, it makes no sense.

Anne Whiston Spirn: The implications for national policy are enormous and the questions are tough ones. Do you subsidize new infrastructure in new areas to the same extent as funding the reconstruction of existing infrastructure that was built 100 years ago or more? Infrastructure by its very nature will structure urban development for years to come. So when we make decisions about how and where to build infrastructure, we are making decisions that are going to affect human settlement forms for centuries, as well as the lives of individuals and the well-being of communities in terms of their access to resources.

David Lazer: The issue is complicated by the simple fact that we are a large country. People like to compare infrastructure here to Europe. But it’s an unfair contest, because Europe is much smaller, with a much higher population density. Speaking very generally, you’re never going to be very far from key infrastructure in Europe, whereas we have vast tracts of rural areas. To some degree, we recognize, and even accept, that rural areas have always had inferior access to certain things. But it’s always been an interesting and important question: what should be the coverage guarantees of infrastructure? We decided, for example, that the postal system would cover everyone, regardless of the cost. And of course, if we subsidize new infrastructure, including new communication infrastructure, in the rural areas, we end up encouraging the very kind of development that many people think we should discourage.

Jeffrey Simon: Where infrastructure tends to be done especially well is where there are constraints of geography or location. I really got an appreciation for this living in Bermuda for a couple of years. Bermuda is 21 square miles: one mile wide, 20 miles long, 750 miles out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In the US, if you need to build an incinerator, people typically say put it out of town, somewhere “out there,” wherever “there” is. You can’t do that in Bermuda. Everything has to go somewhere within that 21 square miles that 60,000 people live on. So the way they approach infrastructure is very different, with a different attitude toward efficiency. They were doing sustainable development out of necessity long before the term had even been created. When all of my drinking water came off my roof, the prospect of running out was not only real but actually happened a number of times. My habits changed very quickly.

Elizabeth Padjen: Your example is a reminder of a profound change in the way we think about infrastructure now, which is sustainability. It’s an overlay that wasn’t really part of the equation 100 years ago.


Ted Williams Tunnel. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.

Hubert Murray: I think that global warming and the possible effects of climate change are beginning to seep into the public consciousness and give us a common purpose; and on that common purpose we can build a new infrastructure. That’s an optimistic view. Only three years ago, just before Al Gore released his film, most people were clueless about the issue. Now it’s the constant subject of tabloid newspapers and radio talk shows. A general consciousness is building up, one we have to respond to with the building of an infrastructure that goes beyond the shovel-ready, because it actually needs some thought.

Jeffrey Simon: But if I had to weigh the price of gas against globalwarming consciousness for its ability to get people mobilized quickly in the way that you’re talking about, I would go with the price of gas. You certainly could argue that the best thing we could do is to establish a five-dollar-a-gallon federal tax on gas — all of a sudden you’d find all of the incentives lining up in the right direction. But that has social impacts that are unacceptable.

Sarah Williams Goldhagen: Our land-use patterns are the result of social engineering through infrastructure that started in the 1930s and went through to the ’50s and ’60s. Now the discussion should be, can we use infrastructure to create the right kind of new land-use patterns without too much undesirable, class-based social fallout? That is not a discussion that I hear people having. What would those land-use patterns be? How do we get there, what do we use, and how does technology fit into all that?

David Luberoff: The danger of using infrastructure to push landuse patterns is that somebody will inevitably say, “Why am I paying for a thing I don’t want?” because infrastructure investments can create tremendous winners and big losers.

Jeffrey Simon: I think you’re right. Consumers want to see a direct connection between what they pay and what they get. We’re seeing that now with the Big Dig, which has vastly improved the quality of life in the city of Boston, despite the cost. But the decision to pay for it through turnpike tolls led a group of toll-payers, mostly from western Massachusetts, to pursue a lawsuit — they don’t see that the Big Dig is of any benefit to them.

David Luberoff: I recently read the state’s new plan for the South Coast Rail, which would extend the line from Fall River to New Bedford and is being touted as an economic-development project. We know there’s a link between infrastructure settlement patterns and economic productivity. But the South Coast Rail is going to be about a $2-billion project, and the state’s numbers say it will carry about 5,000 people a day, which is 2,500 round-trip riders. For $2 billion dollars, I could probably wire all of western Massachusetts, or make Fall River and New Bedford completely wireless. The communities that the railroads bypassed 150 years ago died. The communities that didn’t get highway ramps 50 and 75 years ago died. Arguably, the communities that aren’t on the grid are going to die. Which form of infrastructure do we think people really need?

Jeffrey Simon: You’re always making a choice. It’s always a tradeoff.

Elizabeth Padjen: But how do you make that choice?

Jeffrey Simon: It’s a difficult discussion because you’re not usually presented with the total cost of A versus the total cost of B. You’re always looking at the margin. The South Coast Rail is a good example of an infrastructure investment that relates to a number of complex issues. For example, is it worthwhile to connect Fall River and New Bedford to Boston? Probably. And it certainly encourages people to get out of their cars.

The 2,500 people who will ride the train daily are the ones who have the most direct benefit, but that’s just one side of the equation. The South Coast Rail is also part of a larger discussion about rail in New England. Governor Patrick has joined with the other New England governors to work on a regional rail initiative and to pursue federal stimulus funding to make that happen.

The communities that didn’t get highway ramps 50 and 75 years ago died. Arguably, the communities that aren’t on the broadband/wireless grid are going to die. Which form of infrastructure do we think people really need? David Luberoff

Sarah Williams Goldhagen: The federal stimulus program seems to be driving a lot of discussion about rail across the country. The administration’s current focus on high-speed rail seems to be the closest thing we’ve seen to an infrastructure policy or vision.

Jeffrey Simon: The stimulus program gets all the publicity, but it’s not the only thing driving infrastructure spending. Massachusetts has accelerated its program to repair bridges — it seems as though you can’t drive anywhere now without seeing some bridge being worked on. Crumbling infrastructure has a huge impact on the psyche of the average citizen. The world isn’t crumbling down in the way that spalling concrete and exposed rebars might suggest, but just seeing deteriorating bridges is discouraging. Conversely, seeing them being repaired not only creates the feeling that things are getting better, but also reinforces the fact that someone cares enough about the public to fix them.

Elizabeth Padjen: Fixing bridges is one thing, welcome as that is, but don’t we really need to fix the system that disinvests in maintenance, that encourages deferred maintenance? We developed the One Percent for Arts program a long while ago. It seems to me there should be One Percent for Maintenance associated with any public investment.

Hubert Murray: The New York Review of Books recently ran an essay by Everett Ehrlich and Felix Rohatyn on the $3-trillion deficit in deferred maintenance that we have across the country. They’re proposing a new way of financing infrastructure, the National Infrastructure Bank. And I think that the new administration is listening.

David Luberoff: When agencies such as Massport that are primarily funded by user fees borrow money for big capital projects, the lenders often require that the agency keep those new facilities in a state of good repair. In contrast, maintenance of highways and bridges often comes out of the general operating budget, which means it’s an easy thing to cut. No politician ever got any votes for cutting a ribbon on a maintained bridge; you only get that with a new bridge.

I recently talked to someone at the Deer Island sewage treatment facility — a huge piece of infrastructure — who said the most striking thing about the facility is not that it was built right, but that 15 years later, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, a user-funded entity that built and operates the plant, is maintaining it right. They have a total schedule of maintenance; they can tell you when things are going to be replaced. What is fascinating here is that this is an agency that has become utterly obscure to the general public, yet has maintained a professional culture that says this thing’s got to keep working.

Jeffrey Simon: You think those two things are connected? I see it as cause and effect. The challenge is to have great professionalism combined with authentic transparency, to have professional decisions made in public and to have accountability for those decisions become the accepted practice.

David Luberoff: Sometimes it’s cause and effect, but sometimes agencies become obscure and then they become ossified.

Anne Whiston Spirn: One thing that we haven’t addressed yet is the issue of amenities. Some of the great landmarks in infrastructure are green infrastructure projects like Boston’s Riverway and the Fens, which were projects that addressed important issues like sewage, storm runoff, water quality, and new transportation routes. But they were accomplished in a way that provided tremendous public amenities.

Hubert Murray: And pride.

Anne Whiston Spirn: Yes, and pride. Which goes back to your comment about the public realm and the notion of finding ways to enhance and elevate projects that need to be implemented for all kinds of pragmatic reasons. The Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District is a contemporary example of the Fens and Riverway. Taxes were assessed on individual property owners in proportion to the amount of stormwater they were contributing to the system. These assessments funded the district, which then promoted projects that addressed flood control and storm drainage but also provided parks, trails, and bikeways. We tend to have tunnel vision, addressing one thing at a time and not looking at ways of combining functions. It leads to missed opportunities and frequently to greater expense.

Going back to Deer Island, I would not agree that it was the right solution, even though it seems to work fine now. There were many advocates of a more decentralized approach that would have included protecting groundwater supplies and watersheds in the region. That approach would have been much less expensive, and could have provided other amenities including parks and recreation, as well as the restoration of vacant land in urban neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester.

How do you use short-term money to accomplish long-term goals and do it in a really responsible way? Jeffrey Simon

Hubert Murray: The outcome might be different now. There is growing interest in decentralization, especially in terms of energy infrastructure. Typically you lose 65 percent of the power just in the distribution of electricity; it’s an incredibly inefficient way of doing things, although it is very efficient politically, because one decision-maker can run the show. But Woking, a city just south of London, has converted over the last few years much of its power generation to a distributed energy network, through small neighborhood power stations using alternative technologies. They are small enough that you can individually power housing projects or institutions like schools and hospitals, too. If this model takes off, you can imagine that the structure and the politics of cities will need to change accordingly.

Anne Whiston Spirn: Although maintenance might be a challenge. The one advantage to Deer Island is that it’s one facility to focus on. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, all the sewage in Boston flows out.

Elizabeth Padjen: Where does the leadership come from that can change perceptions or create a value system that is going to support something like the Denver project?

Anne Whiston Spirn: When I stepped back after writing The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design, which is a series of success stories about how cities have adapted to their urban natural environments and ecosystems, I started to look for the common ingredients that made these successes happen. In almost all of them, it was response to disaster. Very few were the result of an idealist with a marvelous vision of what the city could be. Rather, it was a catastrophe that galvanized public support to rebuild and do things right. The Denver project emerged from a series of devastating floods of the Platte River — lives were lost, bridges wiped out, with millions of dollars of damage. So, to answer your question, I would say that every city or region is vulnerable to certain natural disasters. Know what they are and when they are likely to occur, and have a cadre of people who are ready with visions to present to the public as soon as the disaster happens. Because there’s always a lag time. If it’s shovel-ready when the catastrophe happens, then the impetus to rebuild is so strong that it can happen immediately.

Elizabeth Padjen: We’ve talked about private investments, particularly in communication infrastructure, which seems to be largely driven by the private sector. We’ve talked about public investment. Have you seen any innovations in public/private partnerships that have worked?

David Luberoff: In one sense, everything that gets done today is a public/private partnership because, unlike the ’30s when people worked for WPA and were on the government’s payroll, we made a policy decision a long time ago to move to a system of contractors.

Hubert Murray: We’re seeing highway authorities engage in what are called DBOM contracts: design/build/operate/maintain. Firms like Bechtel do this all over the world — public facilities run by private firms for profit.

Jeffrey Simon: What’s happening now is that the privatization of infrastructure is being driven by investment bankers, not engineers. Look at Macquarie Bank coming in from Sydney and buying the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana toll road.

David Luberoff: But the public reaction has not been positive and several deals proposed after the Indiana and Chicago deals have been scuttled. The result is puzzling: we have no problem putting companies like Verizon in charge of the cellular system, but we seem to always want the government to run the roads. Most toll roads have a fairly predictable revenue stream — money that can be used to pay back a large loan, particularly if you assume that tolls will rise in the future. Sooner or later, somebody in government will say, “I could really use a lot of money now, rather than a little bit of money each year for the foreseeable future, particularly if the toll hikes required to support the loan occur after I leave office.” This is basically what Massachusetts did when it had the Turnpike Authority borrow money to help pay for some of the Big Dig.

Jeffrey Simon: There is another way of looking at public/private partnerships, which is to consider how incremental actions or changes in the private sector influence public policy. The focus on sustainability through LEED certification is a fascinating example. No government policy came up with or imposed LEED certification. It was developed in the private sector and then took off as tenants and buyers started to demand it until eventually it was adopted as policy by environmentally conscious cities. The market made that happen.

Hubert Murray: It’s a very good point. I think we’re about to see another example here in Boston, which has some of the highestpriced real estate in the country. It is also in one of the most vulnerable places in the country. If the sea level rises, as it is predicted to do within the lifetime of many of these buildings, they’re going to have swamped basements at the very least. We have a huge impending crisis on our hands; perhaps this relates to Anne’s observation about preparing for catastrophes. Partners Healthcare is addressing this head-on in the development of the proposed new Spaulding Hospital. We anticipate a 24-inch rise in sea level in Boston Harbor within the projected lifetime of the building. So we’ve raised the ground-floor datum and taken all the electrical equipment out of the basement as originally proposed. The term we used for looking strategically at possible disasters is “resiliency.” Every single building on the waterfront has to think in the same way. And if I may say so, the Central Artery Tunnel has to think in that way, because within an 80-year time period, the Central Artery is vulnerable.

Jeffrey Simon: That must have been an interesting meeting. You go in and you say, “We’ve raised all the utilities up to the first floor.” They ask, “Why did you do that?” And you answer, “Well, we think the harbor’s going to rise 24 inches.”

Hubert Murray: We did a considerable amount of research and wrote a protocol that we want to share with the city and the state.

Jeffrey Simon: But this touches on something I think about a lot, which is the long-term implications of what we do. How do you use short-term money to accomplish long-term goals and do it in a really responsible way? And along the way, how can you make fundamental changes to the way state government does business? People who talk about infrastructure now invariably get around to talking about the ’30s. There’s a whole legacy from that period of beautiful work, which we’re not getting out of the current program, because it wasn’t designed with those goals in mind.

Hubert Murray: One of the things that thrilled me about coming to this country from the UK was the opportunity to see the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The quality of design on purely utilitarian structures, and the multi-disciplinary nature of the TVA, transformed that part of the country in a remarkable way. It was something of which the country could be proud, and for which it was known all across Europe. And somehow, we’ve lost that. Coming from Madrid Airport to Logan Airport, for example, is like going from a cathedral to a hovel.

Jeffrey Simon: We have the Zakim Bridge. We haven’t totally lost it.

Anne Whiston Spirn: The fault lies on both sides. Designers have relinquished a role in infrastructure, but on the other hand, architects and landscape architects aren’t the first professions that come to a public agency’s mind when they are planning an infrastructure project. But there’s an optimistic sign: over the past few years, we’re seeing architecture and landscape architecture departments taking on large infrastructure projects as studio projects. At MIT, for example, a collaborative workshop between the department of architecture and the civil and environmental engineering department is in the works.

Sarah Williams Goldhagen: Landscape architects right now are doing a better job than architects are of convincing the public that the design of the built environment, whether it be a public monument, a park, a sewage-treatment plant, or the High Line, directly affects people’s quality of life, both in the present and in the future. In general, landscape architects seem to view working for an improved public realm as part of their professional obligations. And the Landscape Urbanists have done an especially impressive job of creating a public profile for themselves, one that could potentially translate into their playing a major role in the public’s views of how the built environment might best be reconfigured.

David Lazer: Maybe design has been left out of the old forms of infrastructure, but it’s certainly part of the new forms. We talked earlier about the iPhone, which is all about design, as is the whole structure — in a very real way, the whole infrastructure — that Apple has built behind it.

Jeffrey Simon: Design gets left out of the discussion because designers let that happen. I heard a designer at a conference complaining about the whole role of the owner’s rep on a construction project. Well, the owner’s rep developed because architects failed to interface with their customers in an acceptable manner. It’s the same with design — the design profession has failed to communicate perceived value in good design. There was a time when the finest design was reserved for public buildings.

David Lazer: The one thing that building infrastructure has going for it is the very fact that it leaves a lasting legacy, which provides an incentive to politicians. When you leave a TVA or even a Big Dig, you get a little touch of immortality.

Caption: Form work rebars for Big Dig/Central Artery. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.

Industrial Strength

Posted in Vol 12 No 3 by bsaab on August 20, 2009

When creativity is your stock in trade, there is strength in numbers.

Greater Boston is home to the second largest industrial-design community in the country. Largely invisible to the public, industrial designers (also known as product designers) are responsible for the design of mass-produced products from consumer goods to computers and high-tech equipment. Above: Zarafina Tea Maker, designed for Jarden. Design: Continuum; West Newton, Massachusetts. Photo by Sal Graceffa.

Greater Boston is home to the second largest industrial-design community in the country. Largely invisible to the public, industrial designers (also known as product designers) are responsible for the design of mass-produced products from consumer goods to computers and high-tech equipment. Above: Zarafina Tea Maker, designed for Jarden. Design: Continuum; West Newton, Massachusetts. Photo by Sal Graceffa.

Elizabeth Padjen: I’ve come to think of the Creative Economy as the purloined economy — something that’s been hidden in plain view. It’s been with us for a long time but hasn’t really been considered a cohesive economic sector until recently. As a result, there seems to be a lot of confusion about definitions — everyone seems to have a different opinion. There’s the cultural-tourism piece, which has to some degree hijacked much of the public understanding of the Creative Economy in this state. There’s the “applied art” definition — putting creativity and the arts to some functional purpose. That would include architects, landscape architects, graphic designers, product designers. But it also includes advertising, film, videogames, and media — the reach of this sector into all aspects of our lives is remarkable. And of course there is an enormous population of what might be called “embedded creatives” — the people who are tallied up as working in the financial or life-sciences sector, but are writers or designers on staff. What accounts for this confusion? What exactly is the Creative Economy?

Beth Siegel: The concept is relatively new. Even a decade ago, people tended to look at the importance of the arts and culture in an economy in terms of economic-impact studies — such as reports comparing the presence of cultural institutions to a sports stadium. In the late ’90s, Mt. Auburn Associates was commissioned by The New England Council and New England Foundation for the Arts to look at the cultural economy of the entire region. We believed it was a sector that should be examined as an industry, just as we look at biotech or the software industries. Somehow that led to the terminology “creative economy.” We defined the Creative Economy as having three elements: creative industries, a creative workforce, and creative communities. We started to look at industries in which creative content defines competitiveness — much the same way people have defined technology industries broadly to include biotech and computers and software, because technology is the common competitive element of those industries.

The idea of innovation and creativity and entrepreneurship as a core part of the Massachusetts economy is not new. Michael Dukakis was promoting this back in the 1970s. What is new is that we’re looking at a set of industries where the creative content is the defining element. That is where we get some blurriness in thinking about the word “creativity.” But there’s really no right or wrong definition.

Karl Baehr: The common element among all the various definitions of the Creative Economy is not only the presence of innovation but also the power of ideas. Our economy is getting lighter: we’re going from steel to software; we’re seeing physical GDP decrease; patent activity has increased 75 percent from 10 years ago. Innovation and the ability to monetize ideas are at the heart of just about all of these definitions.

Anita Walker: Something else that distinguishes this industry is that it embraces the nonprofit sector, which other industries typically do not. So our symphonies and our theaters are part of an industry that also includes a commercial or profit-making sector.

The common element among all the various definitions of the Creative Economy is not only the presence of innovation but also the power of ideas. Innovation and the ability to monetize ideas are at the heart of all of these definitions. Karl Baehr PhD

Elizabeth Padjen: My impression is that people initially thought of the Creative Economy as comprising only the nonprofits, the cultural institutions. The recent push has been to make them understand that there is also a for-profit component. Is that dichotomy still there?

Beth Siegel: When we began our work, we realized that the old divide between nonprofit and commercial really didn’t make sense anymore. There are too many hybrids — such as museums running retail shops — and the sectors have merged. For example, we tend to think of the media industry as for-profit, but it includes National Geographic and NPR, which are nonprofits. The focus is the product, not whether it’s delivered by a for-profit or nonprofit.

Karl Baehr: The business functions are essentially the same whether it’s a for-profit or a nonprofit entity. Some of the mechanics and strategies are different, of course, but you still have to operate effectively.

Anita Walker: The nonprofits enthusiastically embraced this broader notion of the Creative Economy because they understood the value of being perceived as a significant part of the economy by state legislators and those who fund their work. Being seen as a real economic engine rather than just a nicety has made an enormous difference over the last several years.

Nancy Fitzpatrick: We’ve been lucky in the Berkshires to have a long tradition of art and culture. Everybody there has come to realize, especially over the last 40 or 50 years, that our nonprofit cultural organizations contribute incredibly to our economic vitality, and also to fostering the creative communities. But not everyone is aware of the role that the for-profit creative businesses play. It’s still really important to bring these two sectors together in people’s minds. For years and years, state government has been geared toward a different kind of industry, and a lot of politicians and policy-makers still don’t understand what the for-profit creative industry contributes. There’s a lot of work to be done.

I’ve recently become aware of the importance of homebased businesses to the Creative Economy and the economy as a whole. My parents started a home-based business, Country Curtains [now a mail-order company with retail shops in 12 states]; I confess I had to be convinced that it is in fact part of the Creative Economy. The Creative Economy doesn’t necessarily develop products only for the most sophisticated people. It also produces things that mainstream people feel comfortable with and love, things that are sold at a very affordable price. We really have to embrace everybody. Tattoo artists. Doily makers. Anybody who can make a living by doing something that is creative.

Main Streets with cultural institutions and artist live/work spaces have intrinsic value as vibrant places to live. But they also have an economic value in that they make a community that is attractive to talented people and, therefore, to employers — some of whom might not themselves be part of the Creative Economy. Anita Walker

Jason Schupbach: We’ve seen a sea change in just the last year around the way this state addresses the Creative Economy. We already had one of the most advanced Creative Economy policies in the country supporting the nonprofit sector through the work of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Now we are also developing a complementary policy around the for-profit creative industries, because they often do have different needs. That’s what resulted in the creation of my job. I have counterparts in the Office of Business Development who focus on the manufacturing, life sciences, IT, clean energy, and defense industry sectors. By creating my job, Governor Patrick has said the creative-based businesses, such as entertainment — which includes film, TV, videogames, music, and publishing — design, digital media, and advertising businesses, are every bit as important to the state’s economic growth as those other industries. We want to make sure that the for-profit creative industries are aware of the resources we have for them right now, and we want to understand what we should be doing in the future to develop these parts of the economy.

Beate Becker: I believe the more important debate is the question of creativity versus innovation, and why the Creative Economy is different from an Innovation Economy. I really want to stress that, when we’re talking about the Creative Economy, the creativity is about creative content. For example, engineers are creative, but they’re not producing creative content. Creative content is based in culture or the senses: song, drawing, theater. The economist Richard Florida has brought attention to the notion of a “creative class,” but his class is so inclusive that he’s talking more about a knowledge-based class. He includes accountants and lawyers, who certainly use their minds, but are not necessarily creative workers. They’re different from actors or graphic designers.

Elizabeth Padjen: Along with the idea of a creative class, we have to give credit to Richard Florida for popularizing the understanding that creativity has a physical component — that some places nurture creativity better than others.

Anita Walker: Our understanding of what we call “creative communities” is already expanding. Main Streets with cultural institutions and artist live/work spaces have intrinsic value as vibrant places to live. But they also have an economic value in that they make a community that is attractive to talented people and, therefore, to the companies who want to employ them, companies that will bring jobs and wealth to a community. And of course some of those companies might not themselves be part of the Creative Economy sector.

Elizabeth Padjen: Some cities have been quick to understand this. New Bedford, for example, has been getting great press in the last year as a community that is trying to develop its creative sector as a way of defining itself. Matt, what were the roots of that initiative?

Matthew Morrissey: About three years ago, we were pitching a foreign company that was considering New Bedford for a new manufacturing facility that would employ more than 600 people. We were on the short list and had developed a package of incentives that made us as competitive as any other place in the world, really. Halfway into the presentation, the site-location consultant stood up and said, “Wait a second. I get all of this, but I’m originally from Newton, and I can’t imagine building a workforce in the city of New Bedford.” We had it all, but we were saddled with an outdated perception of the city. And ultimately, we lost out.

So we had to do our homework. The mayor and I sat down and asked, What is it about that experience that encapsulates the challenge facing New Bedford? We don’t sugarcoat the reality of a city like New Bedford, but we wanted to figure out how we as a city could use our assets to better tell our story. What came forward was the sense of place.

The idea of the Creative Economy works pretty naturally for New Bedford. For 10 years now, AHA! [Art, History & Architecture, a cultural organization] has been promoting the possibilities of New Bedford to the scores of people who come to its free Downtown Cultural Nights on a regular basis. And when people sense possibility, you inspire their imagination. It is a very important part of retaining folks who are more educated and more prone to civic engagement on their block, in their neighborhood, and at other levels of government. If you can tell that story to a large enough population, eventually you hit a couple of investors, a couple of site locators, and CEOs.

The direct economic impact of businesses in this sector, however we define it, is real. We have 48,000 jobs and 2,300 businesses in the city, and about 10 percent of that can be attributed, in a broad sense, to the Creative Economy. The Creative Economy isn’t going to become our largest employer. But we know that it can be an enormously important, if not the most important, inducer of job creation in the city of New Bedford.

Anita Walker: This has important implications for public policy: cities like New Bedford, Pittsfield, and Worcester — and, of course, Boston — have recognized that they want the Creative Economy to be part of their city plan and have named individuals who are part of city government to coordinate these efforts. They understand that it’s about business development, but it’s also about community development. You really need a holistic approach.

Nancy Fitzpatrick: Something that we’re grappling with in the Berkshires is the fact that there is no leadership. In cities, you have a mayor who sets an agenda and pushes for it; you can go talk to this one person. But in the Berkshires, we have two cities and 31 towns, and the towns usually have volunteer leadership. There might be one overworked, underpaid town manager, aided by salt-of-theearth elected people who are doing their jobs for nothing. You have to try to raise their awareness about the assets that they often don’t even know they have.

One of the additional challenges that the Berkshires faces is that there’s so much traffic across the borders with Connecticut and New York, in terms of where people live and work, but also in terms of business relationships. We need to find resources that will support this reality. If, for example, we get a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, we can’t use it to support a Connecticut enterprise.

Beate Becker: That is an enormous challenge for New England in general; there are many cross-border opportunities. A maritime trail, for instance, doesn’t stop at the Massachusetts borders. Nor do the clients or employees of a design firm. How do you find something effective that’s more of an overlay, that crosses towns and states without political jurisdiction? And though we don’t have a real answer for that, I think that Massachusetts has started to pursue an effective model, focusing on industries themselves as the overlay. The film industry, for example, cuts across jurisdictions, as does the design industry.

Jason Schupbach: Some regional organizations are stepping into this role. Berkshire Creative is certainly one, and the Creative Economy Association of the North Shore has also emerged as a real leader.

Karl Baehr: I think New England has other challenges. I came to Boston from Santa Fe, which is one of only a handful of UNESCO-designated Creative Cities. I sometimes think people here have to overcome feeling bad about monetizing their creativity. But there are also regional differences that parallel some of the differences Beate mentioned earlier between innovation and creativity. A famous example is Xerox Corporation, back in the beginnings of Silicon Valley in the ’70s. Xerox hired a bunch of high-bohemian, high-tech kids from Berkeley and Stanford. These kids considered themselves artists. It was actually Xerox that invented the mouse, the scanner, the fax machine, the graphical user interface, all that stuff that we’ve attributed to Apple. But the reason Xerox didn’t monetize it was completely cultural — a disconnect between West Coast high-bohemians and East Coast boardroom suits and ties. Xerox would never sell anything called a mouse.

But there’s a corollary to the Xerox story: as we consider what a developed Creative Economy could mean, we should also include its influence on creative thinking in other sectors as well. Can you imagine what the MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] would be like if we had a creative thinker in there anywhere? It would be a radically different organization.

When I listen to President Obama talk about green jobs and high-tech as a priority, I wonder why the Creative Economy isn’t being mentioned in that same context. Carole Walton

Beate Becker: I recently visited Switzerland, which is pursuing some very exciting initiatives. The Swiss are actively bringing together schools of art and design with schools of technology, developing joint curricula and joint laboratories, with some extraordinary results. I’m really concerned that we’re not doing enough of that here. Yes, there’s the MIT Media Lab, but that’s one little node. There’s tremendous potential, particularly in the Boston area, for technology companies and design companies to do much more collaboration, both in classroom laboratory settings and in commercial settings.

Nancy Fitzpatrick: We need to take advantage of the naturally collaborative tendency of younger people: I see it in my own children and the people I work with. There are no barriers. There are no secrets. People aren’t possessive about their ideas. They share openly. These young people have a new view, and I think it’s going to have an enormous, positive influence.

Carole Walton: We can try to support that tendency by providing programs, places, resources — whatever it takes — to encourage cross-pollination. The BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority] is currently exploring the development of an incubator building for people working in the creative sector.

Jason Schupbach: Metro Boston has the advantage of having so many creative people in a relatively small area. We’re seeing a lot of “bump” or “spark” events that get all the creative people in a room to see what happens. Real collaborations and business deals are coming out of these meetings.

Elizabeth Padjen: One of the problems we often hear is that the creative people tend not to be joiners. Or they join organizations that were conceived of years ago that don’t recognize the sorts of blurry borders we are discussing here. If we have architects who are also doing textile design and Web design and God knows what else, there’s no God-Knows-What-Else Association for them.

Beate Becker: DIGMA [Design Industry Group of Massachusetts] addresses exactly that problem. It’s an association that’s been heavily supported by the state, with seed funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and the Boston Foundation — a significant investment in what they see as an emerging design cluster. DIGMA’s goal is to bring creative people together to create a common identity and voice, people who are unified by the fact they are all designers despite their individual skills and expertise.

Jason Schupbach: DIGMA is especially valuable because of the exposure it provides for the industry. Most people have no idea of the size or range of the design industry in Massachusetts or how many companies are right here doing amazing work. How many people know that Greater Boston is home to the second-largest product-design community in the country? Look at a firm like Continuum, which is based in West Newton, Massachusetts, with offices in Seoul, Milan, and Los Angeles. They have a billion-dollar product-design wall, with three or four products they designed that have made a billion dollars each.

Massachusetts is actively promoting entertainment-based industries, which the state Office of Business Development defines as film, TV, digital media, videogames, music, and publishing. Local institutional resources, such as WGBH, WBUR, MIT Media Lab, Emerson College, Berklee College of Music, and Mass College of Art and Design — among many others — have fostered a creative community that is at the forefront of new entertainment media. Above: Arthur. Creator: Marc Brown Studios; West Tisbury, Massachusetts. Image courtesy WGBH.

Massachusetts is actively promoting entertainment-based industries, which the state Office of Business Development defines as film, TV, digital media, videogames, music, and publishing. Local institutional resources, such as WGBH, WBUR, MIT Media Lab, Emerson College, Berklee College of Music, and Mass College of Art and Design — among many others — have fostered a creative community that is at the forefront of new entertainment media. Above: Arthur. Creator: Marc Brown Studios; West Tisbury, Massachusetts. Image courtesy WGBH.

Beate Becker: Visibility is a very important thing. Here’s one simple thing that could be done by the state: Terminal E at Logan Airport, the international terminal, is featuring an exhibition called “Science Swiss.” It consists of 25 panels of beautiful photographs and stories of scientists in Switzerland doing incredible work — everything from entomology to geology to genome projects. I walked down there and thought, Wow, this is beautiful graphic design, beautiful photography, beautifully written. All sorts of creative skills employed in the presentation of the stories of these scientists. And I said to myself, Why are the Swiss advertising in Boston’s Logan Airport? Why isn’t Massachusetts advertising Massachusetts creativity and industries in Massachusetts airports? We can make better use of existing resources to promote our Creative Economy.

Matthew Morrissey: There is another kind of visibility that also has enormous value, which comes through the film industry. There’s the promotional aspect, of course — tourists see Boston in a movie and want to visit. But just as important is the promotional aspect for the residents. New Bedford has had 15 shoots in the last 24 months — all of them small, for indies and cable. But the value for us isn’t so much in the money spent by the crews. It’s in the impossible-tomeasure pride the whole community feels when someone says you’re valuable enough to film. When you’re dealing with Gateway Cities that have been in a virtual depression for 50 years, you can’t overestimate the energy that is created. Film provides a validation — you’re cool! — that in itself promotes the Creative Economy.

Carole Walton: One of the things that we’ve done with the Create Boston program is to identify the creative industries in Boston that show significant growth potential. For the last three years, I’ve been focusing on the videogame industry, increasing awareness of Boston as a digital-media hub and laying the foundation for its continued growth. People are now viewing Boston as a videogame hub; there are currently about 76 companies located in and around Boston. We created the first game-industry steering committee, pulling in video companies from around the state, and convened focus groups to learn more about the challenges facing the industry. They told us that they needed a way to better communicate with each other and asked if we could develop a website. We applied for and received a grant from MCC to do just that.

When I listen to President Obama talk about green jobs and high-tech as a priority, I wonder why the Creative Economy isn’t being mentioned in that same context. A lot of it has to do with us not marketing ourselves properly, as an industry and as a place. Boston needs to re-brand itself as the fabulous, creative epicenter that we truly are.

Karl Baehr: If Boston’s really going to be a creative city, we’ve got to understand what’s important to these people who aren’t joiners. As a city, we need to be creative comprehensively. Not just in terms of infrastructure like roads and WiFi. We need to be creative with bureaucracy. We need to create an environment that we can market. Boston is one of the greatest cities for entrepreneurship in the country. The creative minds are here, but they leave. Why is that? Because we have yet to create this genuine creative environment that these folks are looking for. They’re looking for stimulation. They’re looking for individuality. They’re looking for openness. They’re looking for something beyond a job, something beyond even a career. It’s cultural.

Jason Schupbach: I would like to debunk the myth, though, that all creative people are outsiders. I think that’s almost completely false. If anything, they’re very interested in being part of a community of people who have similar interests. One reason why international companies are starting videogame companies here in Massachusetts is because we have the fourth largest gaming community here, and they want to be part of that community and connect with the talent that’s already here. It’s a highly networked community where everybody knows each other. That is what people are really looking for when they’re looking to be part of a creative industry.

Carole Walton: It’s important to remember that the whole gameindustry influx here was not organic. It was part of a definite strategic plan. All of a sudden Boston is seen as the premier location for videogame events, but that didn’t just happen overnight.

Elizabeth Padjen: What do people who are starting Creative Economy businesses want most? What do they ask for?

Carole Walton: They’re looking for affordable space. They’re looking for funding. They’re looking for an opportunity to be with other folks in creative industries who think the same way they do.

Jason Schupbach: The BRA has been really innovative on that front — it’s one of the few entities in the country that actually started a fund specifically to support Creative Economy businesses.

The connection between affordable, interesting space and the Creative Economy shouldn’t be overlooked. One linkage that would create enormous opportunity would be to lift the current $50-million limit on the historic-preservation tax credit. Matthew Morrissey

Carole Walton: We also have Marine Industrial Park, which is owned by the BRA, and right now we’re creating a cluster of creative businesses there. So we can give them space at an affordable price and get them all together in that environment.

Matthew Morrissey: The connection between affordable, interesting space and the Creative Economy shouldn’t be overlooked. One thing that the current state administration does very well is to understand linkages, and one linkage that would create enormous opportunity for the Creative Economy in cities outside Boston such as New Bedford would be to lift the current $50- million limit on the historic-preservation tax credit. When you look at the seven states that have uncapped historic-preservation tax credits, you see an enormous spike in investment capital. When you dig deeper, you discover that the Creative Economy is fueling a huge part of the demand for space in historic buildings — businesses and nonprofit offices, residences for the people who work in them, and services for the residents and businesses. I think we would see similarly enormous spikes here in terms of redevelopment of old mill buildings. I’m working on a 300,000-square-foot mill project right now that would house a printing and digital-media firm, a high-tech firm, and artist live/work space. About 200 jobs, many of them in the Creative Economy, would be brought in or created as a result. But holding all three of those interests together over a period of two or three tranches of funding under the current historic tax credit program might be too hard. No one’s fault — that’s the system. But if the cap were lifted now, that building would be filled.

Elizabeth Padjen: Except for Gateway Cities like New Bedford — the former mill cities of Massachusetts — this region is not known for affordable space or affordable housing. How can we be competitive relative to other regions of the country?

Beate Becker: If we’re debunking myths, I want to debunk the one that people leave because of affordability. Where do all these creatives go? They go to New York and San Francisco, which are not exactly havens of affordable real estate.

If you ask people what they need and why they move, the answer is jobs. Work is the real issue. It’s not just about educating creative people and getting them in a room together to generate a lot of ideas. If there is no market for those ideas, for those companies or products, then they can’t continue. That’s an issue that we’re especially seeing now, with creative industries taking a big hit in this economy. If people aren’t buying those services and those goods, it’s a problem. So it’s not just about growing the Creative Economy itself, it’s about growing the demand for the Creative Economy.

You do that in part by developing awareness of the added value that design can bring to an industry. Introduce designers to healthcare people and raise the issue of return on investment. What’s the value of design to healthcare? Ask Apple the value of design, or Procter & Gamble. That billion-dollar wall at Continuum? Continuum developed the Swiffer for Procter & Gamble. Getting the other industries here — healthcare, financial, bioscience, high-tech — to employ creatives is what will keep people here. We’ve got the talent. We need the work.

Massachusetts is considered a hub of footwear design. Brands with local presence include Reebok, New Balance, Puma, Clark, Stride Rite, and Saucony — as well as many smaller companies. The footwear industry employs many in-house designers, as well as independent product designers and footwear design consultants, who often also design for well-known fashion labels. Above: Puma Hawaii XT. Design: Puma; Westford, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy Puma.

Massachusetts is considered a hub of footwear design. Brands with local presence include Reebok, New Balance, Puma, Clark, Stride Rite, and Saucony — as well as many smaller companies. The footwear industry employs many in-house designers, as well as independent product designers and footwear design consultants, who often also design for well-known fashion labels. Above: Puma Hawaii XT. Design: Puma; Westford, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy Puma.

Elizabeth Padjen: And in fact, if you look at the websites of many local product-design firms, in addition to what you might expect — household goods, electronic devices, consumer goods — you will find an astonishing number of sophisticated medical devices, which is no accident.

Beth Siegel: That’s right. There are some fascinating crossovers, such as a company in the Berkshires that used to do computerized special effects for the movie industry that now employs 100 people doing medical simulations for the life-science industry.

Anita Walker: I also want to do a debunk. Every state worries about the brain drain. The fact of the matter is, young people move. One of the distinguishing features of the Creative Economy is that it’s highly mobile. It’s not agriculture, which is stuck in the ground; or fishing, which is stuck in the ocean; or oil wells, which are under the ground. You have to accept the mobility factor and work with it.

Nancy Fitzpatrick: I concur with Anita. I cringe every time I hear the president of Berkshire Community College say that we need to keep our young people in the Berkshires after they graduate, because I as an employer do not want to hire somebody to work at the front desk of Porches who’s never been anywhere else, who can’t get him- or herself down to New York and back. I think it’s great that new people come and young people go; they might come back and they might not. Mobility is something that we need to learn to value; we don’t necessarily want to keep people where they grew up. That’s almost un-American.

Elizabeth Padjen: In this economy, a number of people are launching businesses on their own, but what do they really know about entrepreneurship? It may even be worse for creative people, who often seem to believe that being creative and being successful in business is oxymoronic. On the other hand, the Creative Economy seems to present an opportunity to create a different business model — to work in very fluid ways that are outside traditional corporate structures. Karl, your students come to Emerson because they have a love for some kind of creative endeavor. How do they respond to the idea of entrepreneurship? How can we encourage creative people to think about the opportunities that they have in the business world?

Karl Baehr: The fundamental problem is that rule number one of business — “it’s business, not personal” — does not apply to an entrepreneur. It’s very personal. It’s not their business education that compels them to put their life savings into a business and work 15 hours a day, 12 days a week to make a go of it. What motivates them is the passion for an idea. And the moment that inherently right-brained, artistic, emotional element enters into the equation is when an entrepreneur can get off track. So you have to do the reverse: artists can already envision the house that they want to build, but you have to teach them how to use a hammer and nail, and when it’s appropriate to use a screwdriver, and what the pliers do. Those nuts and bolts — the law, management, learning how to network and partner, communication, finance — are all essential. Artist-entrepreneurs come to realize that, in order to make their vision become real, they need to learn these things, just as they need to learn how to use Pro Tools software if they’re musicians or a paintbrush if they’re illustrators. It’s the same creative passion; it’s just a different tool. And that makes it less foreign to our students. Our program is full, because our students realize that there is this thing called business out there that they need to understand.

This economy is a great time to be an entrepreneur, to be in charge of your own destiny. It’s especially true of those who are part of the Creative Economy. What better way to make your way in the world than by doing what you love and creating something, whether it is software or art or music? And understanding enough about how to navigate the waters of business allows you to do that. “Brain lateralization” is the technical term: it’s making the right brain work with the left brain, and learning how to shut off the right brain just long enough to say, Wait a minute, I’m injecting too much of my emotion into this; I need to think a little more critically. Because the passion can blind you.

Anita Walker: We can’t disconnect the Creative Economy from K-12 education. If we relegate children to rote memorization and high-stakes testing, they’re not going to be ready for the Creative Economy of the future. Increasingly we’re seeing art and music squeezed out of the curriculum in favor of high-accountability subjects. These kids will need to be both critical and creative thinkers, to be comfortable with ambiguity and with tackling a problem that doesn’t have a right answer and has never been solved before.

Jason Schupbach: Another important piece of the youth workforce-development picture is validation — helping parents understand that if their kids are interested in videogame development, for example, they can have a job in it someday. Sometimes people don’t know that these are real and, in many instances, high-paying [jobs]. Economic-development folks can create the jobs but we need people to fill them. We have some empty jobs locally in the Creative Economy even now. We can’t staff every firm that wants to come here.

Elizabeth Padjen: John Maeda, the new president of Rhode Island School of Design, said that one of his great challenges is dealing with the parents’ reaction to a kid who wants to go to art school.

Beth Siegel: It would really fill a gap if all the art, music, communication, and design schools got together and asked, “How can we help people understand the occupational opportunities?” — and then took that show on the road to high schools. Because, I can tell you, high-school counselors are not telling these kids about the career potential of these creative disciplines.