A Cathedral Worthy of the Name

Planners Clash Over Transit Hub, and Riders Win
Published: January 8, 2007

A truce has been called in the battle between form and function that erupted late last year over plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center, a new transportation hub in Lower Manhattan.

It appears that subway riders can now look forward to both an architecturally ambitious station and an underground connection to the E train when the center opens in October 2009.

It also appears that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is ready to spend some of its own money to make up the difference between the $847 million in federal funds that have been committed to the project and its current estimated cost of $888 million.


“We are not building cathedrals here,” said one board member, Nancy Shevell Blakeman.

Well, whilst I admire the frugality Ms. Shevell's remark reflects, I've got to point out that the edifice being constructed, with both Federal and MTA dollars, has far more use for an inviting and sublime atmosphere than has any house of worship which has ever been constructed.

Dollar for dollar spent, the value returned on this particular venture, say versus a Sports' complex or mere church (the latter of which would utilize tax free "contributed" money ,) must be computed as astronomically higher.

The "niceties" being debated as necessary are quite practical in terms of both safety and efficacy to riders. For the number of people who will actually benefit from the new hub's existence, it will be exponentially more valuable to the city than any privately funded (especially one using money stolen via the beggar's call of religion) entertainment construction.

Kudos, New York! I hope I get to see this new "Cathedral" of the people first hand and soon.


  1. Dollar for dollar spent, the value returned on this particular venture, say versus a Sports' complex or mere church (the latter of which would utilize tax free "contributed" money ,) must be computed as astronomically higher.

    You know...I had very similar feelings about Boston's 'Big Dig', and look what happened there. Still, in a generation, Bostonians and New Yorkers will look back on these projects and marvel at how their lives were improved.

    In Boston, being able to walk to the North End from downtown is hugh...HUGE!

  2. Oh geeze! I have never been on a subway. Must put that on my list to do someday.

  3. I think it's important to spend a relatively small extra amount to add some aesthetic value to buildings that you practically have to live in (more importantly if they are underground), it's good for your mood, morale, and they also represent you to visitors in a nicer way. It might be a little extra carving or a flourish or just a nice pleasing shape. I think it's worth it.

  4. Cathedrals and courthouses are designed to give you a sense of humility and smallness. Subway stations? I dunno. But I've heard that the Moscow Subways were designed to give that same effect.

    It makes sense, when you think of it. Public spaces that inspire awe may tend to foster respect for the community/society/political party that could create and realize such masterpieces of public architecture.

    I remember being very positively impressed by the Tower City complex in Cleveland when I visited several years ago. In fact, there was a tradition that train stations (representing,as they did, one's introduction to a new city) were elegant to the extreme. Grand Central Station, Penn Station, Union Station in Washington, DC, etc.

    Some airports today do a better job of this than others (Pittsburgh, Orlando and Las Vegas have quite nice airports; San Diego, not so much).

    But the point (I think) is that public gathering places should have an aesthetic component that engenders feelings of pride and community. And why not build them where the people are? Like in the subways, for example. Too proletarian?

  5. ...Still, in a generation...

    Spot on to my meaning, Kvatch! I mean seriously, are they gonna build a new one in the same place thirty years from now? Will they not still need this one, probably more than ever?

    The ambient lighting angle alone will prove fiscally prescient, and thus well worth the extra $ spent now, in a generation.

    I'd love to walk that DT to NE path someday, frogmigo. Perhaps I will. We'll be seeing, eh.

    Put it on your list, Mary! I rode from 107th(?) to Times Square w/ my wife, s-daughter and her wee friend and it was a Blast to watch all their faces as they tripped on the trip. Being a "people watcher" m'self, and having used Cleve's RTA throughout my Uni years, I can tell ya I'd love to ride underground again.

    I think you're quite right, Blueberry. {-; Not all the "special touches" need be expensive either.

    Roxtar, Dude! You've said it too well for me to add anything. Oh, except that Denver's Airport is TRULY a Wonder of the World. That Ambient Lighting thing again, don't ya know.

    Ok, one question as well: Too proletarian?

    Is that even possible in a Democracy? Provide healthy Environs and a quality Education for the masses, and they'll be less easily fleeced or inclined to flock to Sunday masses.


  6. I haven't been to Denver since the new airport opened. The old one used to serve up a mean croque monsieur, though.

    People seem to under-appreciate the value of public space. I'm looking out my office window at our county courthouse, which is over 100 years old. In strolling about the grounds one day, I realized that whatever geniuses were in charge of the landscaping many moons ago planted a number of specimen trees. There's a magnolia tree, a fine old oak, the biggest dogwood I've ever seen, etc. When the weather becomes consistently nice, I'm going to catalogue them.

    Now, I'll wager that most of the folks who work at the courthouse and in the neighborhood have never paid any notice to the fact that every tree on the courthouse grounds is a different species. (Our county is probably 75% covered with hardwood forest.) So, you see, people can't see the trees for the forest! Ha! But it creates an aesthetic that everyone can appreciate, even if only subconsciously. The same with the subway station. Some will fail to notice the quality of the light. Some will notice, but pay it little heed. And some will come to enjoy the sensation that this little public space has a quality (in the Pirsig sense), even if they can't put their finger on just what makes it so damn pleasant.

    That's worth a few bucks.


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