At press time, two unrelated events evoked vastly different reactions in the office. Early in the day came news that Joseph Sitt, the controversial head of Thor Equities who plans to remake Coney Island among other places, announced the creation of a civic lobbying group to advocate for improvements to the city’s three major airports. Sitt, a frequent business traveler, finds the dismal conditions at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty to be an “embarrassment,” an assessment few would dispute. Sitt makes a necessary point about the dismal inefficiencies, grubby atmosphere, and unwelcoming experience of flying to and from New York City, which harms business and tourism, as well as the travel experience for New Yorkers.
The news at the end of the day of the passing of the great Ada Louise Huxtable provoked a saddened response (and an especially anguished one in the twittersphere). Architecture and New York City has lost one of its most passionate, principled, and articulate advocates. She wrote spiritedly about the major monuments and everyday urbanism that make New York City a great world city. She also had a knack for pointing out what was right in front of our faces, the mediocrities we live with unnecessarily. In reading her criticism over the years, I was always struck by the underlying push for civic dignity, and for architects, developers, and politicians to act with their collective power and responsibility over the cityscape in mind.
Thinking about Ms. Huxtable, I began to wonder at why New Yorkers accept the miserable state of the city’s airports. We have a kind of mass resignation that New York’s airports will consistently rank among the nation’s worst. The problem goes beyond stained carpets, scuffed sheetrock walls, poor circulation, inadequately designed security screening areas, and dismal florescent lighting. It’s a matter of economics and public safety. Why has the faceless bureaucracy of the Port Authority not been held accountable for the routine inconvenience one encounters at New York’s major airports, as well as the lost tourist and convention dollars. Why has Mayor Bloomberg—who has been so attentive to bike lanes and public space—completely ignored the problem? Why isn’t transit connectivity to the airports a priority? What about Governors Christie and Cuomo?
Mr. Sitt, for all his colorful remarks and questionable development ideas, is, I hope, sincere in his desire to spotlight those problems. His group, Global Gateway Alliance, joins the Regional Plan Association’s Better Airports Alliance, which is pushing for similar goals. New Yorkers deserve better. It’s up to us to snap out of our state of resignation and make better-designed, more efficient travel a priority for the next mayoral administration.