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Why Infrastucture Updates Are So Urgently Needed

Now that we're anticipating major infrastructure spending under Obama, we should start considering where, exactly, that spending should go. Sarah Goldhagen's 2007 piece on America's crumbling infrastructure lays out where the problems are, why they're so urgent, and how we can go about fixing them:

A quick survey of the infrastructural elements of the United States' metropolitan regions suggests that a few might be said to be doing tolerably well. The rest, which means those in most of the country, are in horrendous shape. Large swaths of our infrastructure--not just one bridge in Minneapolis, or even a bunch of bridges across the country, or a bunch of asbestos-wrapped steam pipes coursing under our cities' streets--have aged to the point of gross deterioration. To sense the magnitude of the problem, one need look no further than the sobering "Infrastructure Report Card" on the United States, which is published every few years by the country's leading professional organization in the field, the American Society of Civil Engineers. On the ASCE's most recent Report Card, from 2005, not a single one of fifteen categories received a grade higher than a C. Ten of the fifteen categories--including drinking water, waste-water management, navigable waterways, transit, and schools--received scores in the D range. ...

The neglect of infrastructure has dramatically worsened since the 1970s, for two reasons. First, the country has undergone a structural transformation from city-suburb-exurb-farmland, a constellation that does not necessarily conflict with the tripartite local-state-federal structure of our government, into metropolitan regions, a constellation that does conflict with that structure. We are stuck with the existing political, legal, and institutional structures of states (usually bigger than metropolitan areas) and municipalities (smaller and self-interested) through which almost everything must be organized and funneled. Neither is the right kind of entity for managing a metropolitan region, but together they inevitably organize our thinking and, more important, our policy planning, which turns out to be too unfocused (in the case of states) or too hyper-focused (in the case of municipalities).

Read the full article here.

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