“China spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on infrastructure and India budgets 3.5 percent … while aiming to increase its allocation to 8 percent. By comparison, the United States budgets $112.9 billion or just 0.93 percent of its GDP, and sidesteps the reality of a ballooning $1.6 trillion deficit for necessary upgrades over the next five years.”
—Infrastructure 2007: A Global Perspective
In the reportInfrastructure 2007: A Global Perspective, published last May, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Ernst & Young assess the state of the world's infrastructure as we reach a turning point in world history: For the first time, one out of two people on the planet lives in a city. Now more than ever, effective systems of public infrastructure are crucial for societies' health as populations grow and resources are squeezed. But in many countries, including the United States, public infrastructure is underfunded and under strain. The ULI estimates that it would cost $1.6 trillion to make needed upgrades to America's infrastructure.
Hard problems demand creative solutions, so ARCHITECT asked a range of experts—architects, engineers, planners, nonprofit leaders, elected officials, and critics—how they'd fix America's infrastructure if they had the chance (and $1.6 trillion to spend). Click through the pages for their responses.
Privatize—and Demand Private Investment
As the so-called Highway Trust Fund is set to go bankrupt as early as 2009, private investment firms are gearing up for partnerships, which could be a positive step, if handled sensibly. What we need to avoid are items such as the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), which is phase one of the NAFTA superhighway. The Spanish firm Cintra is set to take over toll collections after the TTC's completion; however, it is unclear that they'll have any obligations for maintenance. The cost is being socialized, while the profit is privatized, effectively making the American people pay for it twice.
Infrastructure, in a capitalist model, is an asset worthy of maintaining to ensure continuity of revenue. In a government-controlled model, infrastructure is nothing but a cumbersome liability. This should be taken into consideration when developing plans to keep our current infrastructure safe.
Privatization should be used to encourage maintenance and safety, and private companies should truly invest and bear the upfront costs in return for ability to collect tolls or usage fees in some form. But public/private partnerships that look more like corporate welfare must be avoided.
—Ron Paul, U.S. congressman from Texas and Republican presidential candidate
Depave the Parking Lot and Put Back Paradise
We would spend less time fixing and more time dismantling America's infrastructure. The 50-year suburban experiment in car culture is untenable in the face of climate change and projections of peak oil. Urbanism needs to embrace ecology, and urbanists need to recapture the exuberance of visionaries from Charles Fourier to Buckminster Fuller in the creation of new models for sustainable and localized communities.
We would spend the $1.6 trillion on five important eco-urbanist projects. First, a systematic study of the suburbs identifying those which can be densified as new cities and those which can be returned to farmland: There is no middle ground in Ecotopia.
Second, the reconstruction of a national rail network for people and goods and the elimination of trucking.
Third, a massive investment in ecological infrastructure, from solar fields to town-scaled water-filtering living machines.
Fourth, the expansion of farming universities; working land organically will become the future's (more satisfying) version of working at Wal-Mart.
Lastly, the re-establishment of the Jeffersonian grid as a national priority. Ban the cul-de-sac.
The final plea is something no money can buy: To abandon small ideas, banality in design, and the clinging to historicism in order to recapture a nonexistent past—and instead to channel courage, optimism, and humanism in the search for big and forward-looking solutions to contemporary issues.
—Dan Wood and Amale Andraos
Principals, WORK Architecture, New York
From the Silk Road to Mars Rovers
History's most successful cultures are those that planned ahead and invested in technologies and the infrastructure to support them. I've used NASA radar imaging to uncover ancient trade routes with wells and secure forts in the Mideast. These routes enabled cultures to prosper in the silk and incense markets. In the 1400s and 1500s, Spain, Portugal, and England rose to prominence with shipping fleets and maritime routes. Later on, trains, planes, and, ultimately, space travel helped shape the fortunes and status of various countries.
A technology is only as good as the infrastructure that supports it. NASA's two Mars rovers are valuable only because they can share their discoveries via powerful receivers on Earth that “talk to them.” We're already planning an interplanetary internet for communication among multiple spacecraft.
While the United States historically has invested heavily in traditional phone technology, India has emphasized wireless communications. I've had better cell phone reception in India than at home near Los Angeles. We are all so critically dependent on wireless communications—for financial, medical, transportation, energy, and other needs.
Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA
Connectivity—Physical and Digital
A creative economy in the global age means connecting people and talent in urban centers. Investing the money in connectivity, both physical and digital, is important. We have to start by creating open access to talent and more efficient trade. We must elevate our airports to standards and examples set by cities such as Amsterdam, Sydney, Toronto, and Copenhagen. Finally, we have to invest money in a leadership and infrastructure that will drive open, connected, and tolerant communities. Our communities need to be completely wireless.
—Richard Florida, author, The Rise of the Creative Class