The $3bn subway station – and other urban white elephants | Cities

How much should one subway station cost? The city of Toronto has an answer. The plan to extend transit in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough winds back at least a decade: at one time the plan was a seven-stop light-rail line; later a three-stop subway. Today, Scarborough is preparing to replace its six-stop automated train with just one single, solitary subway station, for a mere C$3bn (£1.8bn).

Is that a wise investment? Time will tell, but in a recently unearthed 2013 assessment the transport agency Metrolinx calls it “not a worthwhile use of money”. Many voters in Scarborough feel differently, and Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, has no plans to change course.

But if Toronto may be about to purchase the most expensive single subway stop in history, it wouldn’t be alone in sinking good money into bad projects. White elephants are everywhere.

America’s ‘bridge to nowhere’

Threadbare … Sarah Palin supporting the Gravina Island bridge during a 2006 gubernatorial campaign.



Threadbare … Sarah Palin supporting the Gravina Island bridge during a 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Photograph: Courtesy of Bob Weinstein

Back in 2005, Alaska scored a spending coup in Washington, DC. In that year’s mammoth infrastructure bill, the state managed to peel off $223m for a bridge to connect a town of 80,000 people on the mainland to just 50 on Gravina Island. It would have been longer than the Golden Gate bridge, and higher than the Brooklyn bridge.

Due to how few people it would reach, it was quickly dubbed “the bridge to nowhere”. The moniker became a curse following Hurricane Katrina: senator Tom Coburn tried to reallocate some of the money for the Gravina Island bridge to help rebuild New Orleans. When his attempt failed, senator John McCain vocally assailed it as a classic pork-barrel project. Gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin, meanwhile – one day to be McCain’s choice for vice president – supported the bridge, once proudly displaying a T-shirt reading “Nowhere, Alaska”.

In the end, even Palin decided it was a bad idea. In 2007, as governor, she put the brakes on the project (though, despite what a McCain-Palin 2008 campaign ad claimed, she did not stop it entirely). It was finally scrapped in 2015.

South Korea’s Four Major Rivers project

Sunk costs … Four Major Rivers project work at the Gangchon bridge and weir in Yeoju, South Korea.



Sunk costs … Four Major Rivers project work at the Gangchon bridge and weir in Yeoju, South Korea. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In 2009, South Korea launched the Four Major Rivers Restoration project. Its goal was to improve water quality in the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan rivers, and to make parts of South Korea more resistant to floods and drought. The latter part of that plan involved building 16 dams. Cost? 22 trillion won, or about £15bn.

For their money, South Koreans do not appear to have received all they were promised by the former government of Lee Myung-bak. Since the project was declared complete in 2011, it has been slammed by the country’s Board of Audit and Inspection: in 2013 it found that “due to faulty designs, 11 out of 16 dams lack sturdiness, water quality is feared to deteriorate … and excessive maintenance costs will be required”.

Earlier this year, South Korean president Moon Jae-in stepped in – and ordered yet another audit.

Berlin’s airport: coming soon (forever)

Last call … inside Berlin Brandenburg airport.



Last call … inside Berlin Brandenburg airport. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

In 2006, Berlin’s new airport was projected to cost about €2bn and open in 2012. Five years later, not only has its opening been pushed back to 2019 and its budget ballooned to more than €5bn (£4.6bn), but so has the number of passengers expected to pass through it.

Initially, it was thought that by closing Berlin’s two operating airports, Tegel and Schönefeld, the new Berlin Brandenburg airport (BER for short) would have to handle around 27 million passengers per year. But in 2016 Tegel and Schönefeld saw 33 million passengers combined. The crown on this classic white elephant: Germany’s government currently spends €16m a month just to maintain the unfinished airport as it is.

What happened? A litany of design and construction issues, as well as accusations of corruption. Tests of the fire alarm system revealed so many problems that the corporation in charge of the airport suggested hiring 800 low-paid workers to stand around the airport and send notifications via mobile phone if they smelled smoke or saw a fire.

By 2015, when the airport was supposedly two years from opening, 150,000 defects had been found in the airport – 85,000 of them “serious”, according to one official. So much, it has been said, for German engineering prowess.

The $51bn town

On ice … the deserted Sochi Winter Olympics site.



On ice … the deserted Sochi Winter Olympics site. Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Imag

Prior to 2014, Sochi was a sleepy, sub-tropical resort town for well-heeled Russians on the Black Sea. Once it was designated host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics, however, an army of contractors and construction workers descended on the city to build 49 new hotels, 13 new and renovated train stations, five new schools, six medical centres, and 200 miles of road (including 22 new tunnels and 55 new bridges), according to a New York Times report.

The cost: an estimated $51bn. By comparison, the 2016 ummer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – a much larger event – are estimated to have cost around $13bn.

In 2016, the Olympics site boasted that Sochi was “still basking in Olympic afterglow”, but other accounts suggest that might only be partly true. Photos published in 2015 showed the Sochi Olympic site abandoned, and the roads and hotels surrounding it empty. However, the private investment that flowed to the city in the run-up to the games – particularly for new real estate – has meant that for some, Sochi is now reportedly a retirement mecca.

Spain’s crumbling masterpiece

Creative spending … Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house.



Creative spending … Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house. Photograph: Fernando Bustamante/AP

Recently, architect Santiago Calatrava’s name has become synonymous with the massive Oculus exoskeleton jutting up in lower Manhattan, adjacent to Ground Zero. But in the late 1990s, Calatrava’s name was linked to an even grander project: Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. The original build cost for the massive complex, which includes a performance hall, a bridge, a planetarium, an opera house and a science museum, was originally predicted to be €300m. It has since more than trebled, surpassing €1bn.

The complex has been plagued with problems, most crucially involving the roof of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house, which was quickly found to leak, and threatened to peel away during high winds. In 2014, the Catalan government decided to replace the roof entirely, for a further €3m. That same year, Valencia announced it was suing Calatrava – who was paid nearly €100m for his work – and his architectural firm for the cost of repairs. But legal issues weren’t new to Calatrava. Two years earlier, he had sued a regional leftwing political party that started a website enumerating all the problems with the buildings (he won).

Despite the expensive mess in Valencia, Calatrava has also continued to win contracts: London’s next major development, Peninsula Place in Greenwich, is a Calatrava design. The Oculus, for the record, also leaks.

The Pearl river bridge

Tarnished … the Pearl river bridge.



Tarnished … the Pearl river bridge. Photograph: Alamy

The idea for a bridge to span the Pearl river delta, linking Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai and thereby joining together the world’s largest urban conurbation, has been around since the 1980s, but took on new life after Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997. Construction finally got underway in 2009, with the expectation that the bridge would open in 2016.

That date has come and gone, and the $2.3bn bridge may only now receive car traffic starting in 2018. In the meantime, the project has been plagued by engineering problems, construction worker deaths, soaring costs and allegations of corruption. The last of those problems has the potential to push the bridge’s opening date even further into the future, and costs higher.

Earlier this year, 21 people were arrested over one company’s role in the construction. Two senior executives and 19 lab technicians are alleged to have falsified test results for the concrete, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. At best, that means there are safety concerns; at worst, two-thirds of the supporting pillars and columns might need replacing. China may soon get its very own bridge to nowhere.

The Don Quixote airport

Crash landing … Cuidad Real Central airport.



Crash landing … Cuidad Real Central airport. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Ciudad Real Central airport wasn’t always destined to be a complete flop. It was conceived in the 1990s, when nobody could have known that the global financial crash would cause the Spanish economy to grind to a halt in the same year (2008) that the airport would eventually open. But how, and why, did a small city of 75,000 people in Castile-La Mancha (home of the famous literary fantasist Don Quixote, which has resulted in the nickname the “Don Quixote airport”) become the proposed site for a major international transit point at all?

As the BBC explained, it “was to be a private project, for private profit”, and prior to the economic collapse, money for projects like it was not difficult to come by via local savings banks, which had local politicians – with eyes trained on infrastructure projects to brag about – on their boards.

In its final year of operation, 2012, the €1bn airport didn’t receive a single flight. Three years later it was put up for sale; one Chinese-led bid of €10,000 was rejected for being too low. It was eventually sold to a local group for €56m and has yet to see any new flights.

The bungle of Benidorm

Beached … the In Tempo apartment block.



Beached … the In Tempo apartment block. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

In the heady pre-recession days of 2005, Spanish savings bank Caixa Galicia funded what has become one of Europe’s tallest white elephants: the In Tempo apartment block in Benidorm. The developer, Olga Urbana, borrowed €93m to build a 47-storey M-shaped tower overlooking the Mediterranean; Caixa Galicia itself put up just €3,100 ($3,650) in seed capital.

What followed was a hilarious nightmare. There were immediate construction and design problems. Most notably, the building’s architect didn’t properly design the elevator for 47 stories: instead, it used plans for a 20-storey building and simply extended the lift mechanism another 27 storeys. As Der Spiegel explained, the architect “failed to consider … that more stories would also mean more use, or that the space would not be sufficient for the necessary amount of additional lifting equipment”.

Despite being mostly complete, the building has yet to be occupied, according to El Mundo, which also recently reported that the building’s mortgage had been sold as part of a €60m deal between its current holders, Sareb, and SVP Group as part of a plan to finally start selling the units. As for its value to sightseers? One reviewer on TripAdvisor summed it up: “Not an attraction.”

Pyongyang’s Hotel of Doom

Late checkout … Pyongyang’s unfinished Ryugyong hotel.



Late checkout … Pyongyang’s unfinished Ryugyong hotel. Photograph: Keystone/USA-ZUM/Rex/Shutterstock

Construction on the Pyongyang Hotel began in 1987, and by most accounts the building is still not quite ready to, you know, host guests. Officially called the Ryugyong, it has been dubbed the “Hotel of Doom” out of fears that it is structurally unsound.

At conception, the planned 105-storey Ryugyong was meant to be the tallest hotel on earth, complete with casinos and nightclubs. But economics – specifically, the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1989 – ruined the party. Construction has limped on ever since; all told, the building is said to have so far cost £470m.

In July, photos showed it mostly empty, with the exterior works unfinished. But in October, on the strength of comments from tourists to North Korea, speculation grew that the hotel could soon open. Watch this space in another 20 years.

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Pope Francis announces five new cardinals, including first from Mali | World news

Pope Francis gave the Catholic church five new cardinals Wednesday, sombrery instructing them to act as servants and not “princes” in a world where innocents are dying from wars and terrorism, slavery persists and refugee camps often are living hells.

Reflecting Francis’ attention to the poor, three of the five cardinals hail from developing nations and regions: Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Laos; Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Mali; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who continued working as a parish priest while serving as San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop.

The other two elevated churchmen are Barcelona Archbishop Juan Jose Omella, who early in his clerical career worked as a missionary in Zaire; and Stockholm Bishop Anders Arborelius. The Swedish prelate last year welcomed Francis to his country, where Lutherans are the majority Christian group.

Cardinals are often referred to as “princes of the church,” a reflection of their prestigious roles of advising the pope and electing his successor, as well as their often-ornate residences.

But Francis in his homily told the five new cardinals that Jesus “has not called you to become ‘princes’ in the Church,” but instead chose them to serve God and people.

Some media had speculated that Zerbo, Mali’s first-ever cardinal, would not show up for the ceremony or even be made cardinal after European news media recently reported that he was one three Mali prelates who had multi-million euro Swiss bank-accounts.

If Francis was upset by the reports, it did not show when he placed the prestigious red biretta, the square, three-ridged hat cardinals wear, on Zerbo’s head.
As he did with the other four cardinals, Francis gave the African prelate a fraternal embrace and said a few words to him.

Francis, an Argentine and the first Jesuit pope, told his newest cardinals to be focused on the suffering in the world.

“The reality is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of wars and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights,” he said.

The pope also spoke of refugee camps “which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory,” and decried what he called “the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.”

Chavez, who heads the Latin American division of Caritas, a Catholic charity, had worked closely with Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who while celebrating mass was shot dead in 1980 by a right-wing death squad during El Salvador’s civil war.

Zerbo has worked for reconciliation in Mali, an impoverished country bloodied by Islamist extremism and where Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. “There is such violence in the world, what we need is brotherhood,” Zerbo said as well-wishers waited to greet him after the ceremony.

But as the cardinal-making ceremony neared, his reputation as a peacemaker was overshadowed by news reports that 12 million euros ($13.5 million) were held in Swiss bank accounts in the names of Zerbo and two other top-ranking Catholic churchman from Mali.

Vatican officials have said it is common for bishops working in unstable countries to deposit church funds in either the Vatican or European banks.

Francis accompanied his five new cardinals to the monastery on Vatican grounds where his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013, lives. “We were happy to meet” with Benedict, said the new cardinal from Laos.

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Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition showcases the world | Art and design

This year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy will centre on diversity, moving the focus away from familiar European artists and instead “open our doors to the world”.

The 2017 edition of the Summer Exhibition, which next year celebrates its 250th anniversary and is still the world’s largest open-submission art exhibition, was curated by painter and printmaker Eileen Cooper.

Cooper, known best for her colourful, stylised paintings of women, had her first work selected for the Summer Exhibition as a student in the 1970s. She said she wanted to display artists who have never come close to the Royal Academy in the past.

“We couldn’t think of one slogan to sum it up, which is a real drawback,” Cooper recently told the Financial Times. “Our aim is to bring something fresh to the show by finding emerging talent and recruiting more artists from countries as disparate as [the Democratic Republic of the] Congo, Peru, Spain and India, as well as Turkey and Kurdistan.”

She added: “I don’t want to focus on personal politics but we have deliberately looked further afield from the home nations. This year we have an exhibition that’s very rich in terms of geography – we’ve tried to open our doors to the world.”

Entering the Royal Academy’s imposing courtyard, visitors are greeted by Windsculpture VI, a colourful fibreglass sculpture by the Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare, who was also on the selection panel. Cooper described it as a wonderful work, “exploring the notion of harnessing motion and freezing it in a moment of time”.

Untitled (Violin) by Sir Michael Craig-Martin



Untitled (Violin) by Sir Michael Craig-Martin Photograph: Smiejkowska/Rex/Shutterstock

This year there were 12,000 digital entries, which were narrowed down by the committee to the 1,200 works now hanging in the show. A neon sign of the words “And I said I Love You!” by Tracey Emin, a vast painting by Sean Scully, suspended silver jugs by Cornelia Parker and other pieces by Wolfgang Tillmans, Anish Kapoor and Phyllida Barlow stand alongside amateur artworks by members of the public that made the selection panel’s cut.

In a first for the exhibition, this year will have a performance piece – by Alana Francis – as part of the selection. It will take place on Friday nights in the gallery, involving intimate one-to-one spoken word pieces to individuals.

The show also includes includes three film-makers, with an entire room dedicated to Isaac Julien’s work Western Union: Small Boats, which deals with the subject of refugees travelling across the Atlantic, as well as a new photography series by provocateurs Gilbert and George.

Next year the summer exhibition will celebrate its 250th anniversary. Despite drawing in an annual 200,000 visitors, it has often been scorned by critics, particularly for its inclusion of works by members of the public alongside the RA academicians. All the work in the show is for sale, with the proceeds going towards the RA schools programme. In the 1800s the Morning Post described it as a “parade of the hackneyed and incompetent amongst the little dirty paltry aristocracy of the Royal Academy”.

Cooper, however, said the all-inclusive nature of the show should be embraced. “I believe in the Summer Exhibition,” she told the Financial Times. “I think it is churlish to be negative about something that supports the next generation.”
The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy, London W1J, 13 June – 20 August.

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