Upon entering ReThink Studio's Upper West Side office, it's difficult to know if you’ve come across a high tech startup, an architecture office, or an insurgent political campaign. There is a buzz of energy all around. The team, led by former technology entrepreneur Jim Venturi, comes from a variety of professional backgrounds, but mostly from architecture. They want to change the world by improving mass transit, and today are busy working on the ReThinkNYC Regional Plan. As their first major project, it is beginning to gain respect and recognition in professional circles as a visionary alternative to the hodgepodge of infrastructure plans in New York today.
Hanging on the wall is a quote by the noted English poet John Betjeman: “Transport, more than anything, changes a place.” Venturi elaborates, “We take Betjeman very seriously, he was very much ahead of his time in his recognition that railroads were the future and not the past. He was also a great humanitarian.”
The ReThinkNYC plan relies on underused and abandoned infrastructure to unify the transit network that serves the tri-state region. With its broad reach, ReThink's plan addresses not just rail connectivity throughout the region, but also economic disparity and the housing crisis that plagues the region. “We love what we are doing here,” Venturi adds, “and people are getting it, which is wonderfully exciting. We’ve had the opportunity to ReThink how the entire New York City region works from a transportation and development perspective, and people are beginning to listen. Who would've thought this was possible back in 2014, when I nervously presented the plan for the first time?”
Since then, Venturi’s office has grown to seven people and the dedicated team continues to refine and expand the ReThinkNYC plan. It even now has a price tag, $48 billion, which includes the cost ReThinkNYC extension of Amtrak’s Gateway plan (presently budgeted at $25 billion) and the new Port Authority Bus Terminal ($10 billion)—meaning that the additional cost of the ReThinkNYC plan is only $13 billion. “My mother calls our plan ‘thrift store’, because we reuse so much existing underutilized infrastructure. This is a great source of pride for us.”
The firm also allies its philosophy with the concept of elegance in an engineering context:
In engineering, a solution may be considered elegant if it uses a non-obvious method to produce a solution which is highly effective and simple. An elegant solution may solve multiple problems at once, especially problems not thought to be inter-related.
Venturi explains, “When we saw this definition, we were thrilled! It describes our plan perfectly. The last phrase resonates particularly strongly: ‘especially problems not thought to be inter-related.’ That is precisely what our plan does. We’ve addressed the disparate problems of LaGuardia Airport, Rikers Island, Penn Station, the Second Avenue Subway, LIRR East Side Access, and the Port Authority buses by thinking about their solutions as a whole. Not only does each part of the system work better, but we've also figured out a way to pay for the whole lot, and now I know the word for it—elegant. I love it.”
Venturi isn’t the only one loving it. The noted architecture critic Paul Goldberger has described the ReThinkNYC plan as “bold exercise in planning that is full of common sense…you realize that it has the potential to solve multiple problems at once.” The new President of the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) argues that “with billions of dollars in funding earmarked for projects ranging from LaGuardia to Penn Station, it’s imperative that we get this right. We don’t need piecemeal fixes — we need a comprehensive plan. That is the value of ReThinkNYC.”
So what’s next for ReThink Studio? “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support in what we're doing with ReThinkNYC. We're in the process of developing a partnership to take the plan even further. We’re also excited to have been approached by people in other cities to help figure out their plans and other consulting firms who would like to work with us. Now we’re focused on building our office so that we can take on all of these challenges.”