In his brilliant piece in New York Magazine, design critic Justin Davidson compared the BQE to an ‘antique coal-red furnace sitting in your living room’. Davidson muses that you’d probably prefer to trade it in for a brand new central-air system, but ‘the beast still works, after a fashion, belching heat and noxious smoke. And anyway, it’s so huge you’d have to chop up the dirty old thing — or knock down a wall — in order to get it out of the house. So you keep nursing it along, scavenging parts and welding patches over rust spots...’ Davidson makes this furnace-in-the-living-room analogy as a way to explain why taking the BQE down as opposed to repairing it, at a cost of many billions, is perhaps the most rational and cost-effective idea currently on the table. I’d like to use another analogy to describe my particular take on how the potential deconstruction of the BQE could begin to take place in our consciousness. As some of you politicos know, the phrase ‘Starve the Beast’ refers to the attempt by Republican strategists in Congress to force reductions to Medicare and Social Security by ‘starving’ the Federal government of tax receipts through huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The thinking goes, once the Federal government is deprived of needed revenue, the only place left to cut and gut is our supposedly bloated safety net.
I’d suggest instead we think of the BQE as the Beast, and work to deprive it of its reason to exist by finding alternative means of moving the goods and cars that currently clog its deteriorating, asthma-inducing lanes. One of our teams tonight, a trio of transportation and civil engineers, has focused on depriving this anachronistic piece of Moses infrastructure of its necessity by using water, rail and smaller, clean-energy vehicles, including pedal power, to move freight. Other Fellow teams reimagine what could be done with the thousands of acres freed up by dismantling this inadvertent land bank through imaginative, community-driven design. More than creating what could be the largest Community Land Trust in the US, we have an opportunity here to act on our recently awakened acknowledgement of the need to redress decades of environmental and racial injustice for communities of color, many of them suffering dislocation, health and safety issues, and social inequities on both sides of the BQE. Strip the Beast of its raison-d’être and its power to degrade and poison neighboring communities.
Leave it limp, ineffectual, decommissioned, and obsolete, a relic of a bygone era revolving around Moses’s car-centric obsession. Make its demise inevitable, and then take the Beast down!