Once Centers of Civic Pride, Transit Hubs Become Destinations Again

When the railroad was the primary means of interstate travel, America's cities relied on their train stations to provide grand first impressions to travelers. As transit ridership soars, a bevy of new stations are being designed as civic centerpieces

Will Doig looks at a selection of new stations being built in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, and sees signs that cities are again lavishing money on their transportation hubs, expanding on the role of the grand station houses of the past to provide "transit environments" that reflect "today's urban ideals". Doig focuses his attention on Minneapolis's new hub, called the Interchange, which architect Peter Cavaluzzi, principal at EE&K, describes as functioning, "in the new wave of transit hubs where we're trying to blend transit and culture."

So, what is a "transit environment"? "First off, it's not just trains," writes Doig. "It's heavy rail, light rail, buses, streetcars, subways, bicycles, pedestrians, all integrated into a single multi-modal hub. Second, it's an activated space, with shops and restaurants (not just kiosks and food courts, but stores and restaurants you'd want to hang out in), live performances, art, parks - a true public gathering space. Finally, it's integrated into the city, less a soaring monument to transportation than a celebration of urban life - and in the more ambitious efforts, a small city in itself."

However exciting the premise of these "magnificent public gathering spots" based around the clamor for increased transit options represents, Doig questions whether the expanded role envisioned for such facilities could come at the expense of their central function, "providing the best possible ways to get from one place to another."

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