Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sadik-Khan on Politics and Public Space

I heard Janette Sadik-Khan speak on the NYC Department of Transportation's transformative initiatives at the Center for Architecture last night. I'll admit some pretty heavy skepticism about her going in, but by the time I left I was convinced that she is a new model of leader, one from which I had much to learn.

While I still have beefs about some of the project designs that have come out of her agency, the very existence of those projects is, in New York City, somewhat of a miracle. The real creativity on view here was the use of operating and maintenance funds to create experimental case-studies, whose very temporality allows "cover" to the agency and politicians (to borrow a phrase from Tim Tomkins of the Times Square Alliance, another speaker) which allows the notoriously contentious New York public to withhold judgement until the project is experienced, which forces the conversation from "should we do this" to "HOW should we do this..." which is a critical distinction.

I was also struck by how effortlessly collaborative she was, in the sense that she actually listened to the somewhat insane questions by the audience, managed to craft a constructive response to each on the spot, and then offered, and offered believably, that questions like that were helpful.

She also stood up to some cyclists that were clearly baiting her on safety and pedestrian/automobile/bicycle conflicts by both admitting that it was an ongoing process of education and learning, but also reminding the questioner of HIS responsibility as a cyclist and a citizen to make it all work...

I have some real concerns about the Broadway corridor project outside of our office, and wondered if I could actually be heard. From what I saw last night, it actually seems like she'll listen.

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