President-elect Barak Obama and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden have both said publicly that if they weren’t politicians, they would be architects. So when the two men take office in late January 2009, all eyes will be on America’s First and Second Architects. What will the Obama Biden Administration do to jumpstart the world’s largest economy? And how will architects be affected? WAN Correspondent Sharon McHugh sifts through Obama’s policy papers to see what’s in store for our industry.
Right out of the gate and with deliberate speed, President-elect Obama has committed to a massive economic stimulus package with a large construction component. As early as his first public address to the Nation, Obama pledged he would pull the US economy out of the doldrums with a $175 bn rescue plan now estimated at $700bn. Not since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programme of the 1930s has America seen an economic stimulus package so sweeping and with as large a construction component as that being proposed by Obama. “My plan will put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and
the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.” said Obama. Indeed, if all goes as planned, Obama will rebuild America and build it green.
While the details of Obama’s agenda are still in the making, the President-elect’s policy papers provide some idea as to the types of projects that will top his list.
Obama made transportation infrastructure a critical issue when he called for the establishment of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will fund 60 billion over a ten -year period for highways, technology and other projects. “This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs, many of them in the construction industry that has been hard hit by the housing crisis”, said Obama. “Funding for this endeavor will be made available by ending the war in Iraq”, Obama said. Some 3,000 projects, estimated to cost over $18 billion and supporting over half a million jobs, could get underway in less than 90 days. Over the long term, Obama pledges to expand the Country’s surface transportation system, including building more inner-city rail transportation.
The other major part of Obama’s infrastructure plan is energy. Obama’s New Energy for America Plan will generate 5 million green collar jobs and set a bold new national goal on energy efficiency. During the campaign, Obama pledged to spend $150 billion over 10 years on renewable energy, to be paid for by a tax on carbon dioxide. To generate jobs quickly, experts say the government will need to focus on energy efficiency. This includes things like wrapping water heaters in insulation, caulking or replacing windows, and switching to more efficient appliances. Obama told the press that he, personally, would lead this effort by ‘greening’ the White House. Other energy initiatives included in
the Obama agenda include: putting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, expanding renewable energy sources so that 10% of the country’s electricity comes from green sources by 2012, weatherizing 1 million homes annually, and building the Alaska pipeline.
While transportation and energy projects are likely to generate jobs for contactors and engineers, rebuilding the country’s schools and expanding the affordable housing supply could keep architects working. Under his yet to be created Urban Policy Office, Obama plans to rebuild schools and create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build thousands of new units of affordable housing every year. Obama also plans to build shopping centers, buildings and parks to foster healthy communities. It is not yet known how much money will be budgeted for these initiatives.
Obama has plans to rebuild the Gulf Coast region, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. That plan includes the construction of levees, roads, hospitals, schools and housing.
Lastly, it comes as good news that in spite of a dreadful economy, Obama plans to expand funding of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). Over the last 15 years, government funding for the NEA has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today.
Putting America’s economy back on track is an awesome task. Hopefully, Obama is up to the challenge.