|Krishna and Lakshmi Image Credit|
Various experts in the space design industry have been telling me for a few years now that shovel-ready projects are too tepid a manner of reigniting America’s infrastructural standing. People are still saying it. (Such as in an Atlantic Monthly piece by Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist for the Progressive Policy Institute.)
I understood what Carol Coletta of Smart City Radio meant when we discussed it at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2009, just weeks before I left the States for China. Today, more than two years later, I’ve witnessed impressive infrastructure in China and Hong Kong and watched as countries like India and the US lag behind.
While many believe it’s a matter of switching to export-based projects, isn’t that bogus? Americans can’t be bothered to be line workers again. An international business man whom I knew in China explained that what’s happening to the world is almost a matter of establishing the next era’s caste system. China and the East will be the manufacturers. Africa will remain trounced upon my developed and developing countries. The West, chiefly America, will dominate on less visible, nonetheless imperative ‘exports’ such as technology.
That’s why it’s necessary that the US build infrastructure based on what’s actually happening, what we’re doing: Internet and eco-friendly travel.
We’re using Internet for everything from Twitter and Facebook to GPS and cell phones. Various parts of the US don’t have reliable Internet connectivity. For instance, at my uncle’s house in very rural Indiana, dial-up connectivity is still prevalent. That means the lack of easy access significantly affects education and other cultural elements that give rise to social democracy.
That’s not to say that manufacturing is completely dead. American automobiles seem to have reached popularity heights not seen since the late 1960s, I noticed when I spent four months back in the States earlier this year. They still enjoy popularity abroad, as I’ve noticed in China, Hong Kong, India, and Peru. It’s only us Americans who complain that they’re not as fuel-efficient as they need to be.
I’ve seen that Americans (and Europeans) care more about fuel efficiency and the very greenness of cars more than any place I’ve visited in the last year. We are the ones leading the planet in hybrids and other alternative energy sources for cars. Fortunately we’re also driving fewer SUVs. However, if we’re to continue leading the charge on this we need more powering sources– not only in cities but also along major highway stretches. If India and Peru can have compressed natural gas pumps at their stations, why can’t the US have ethanol (albeit controversial) and electricity sources at ours?
Consider what other countries are doing, according to this Urban Land Institute report:
- The UK — despite an austerity budget — has committed $326 billion over the next five years for projects related to rail, energy production and broadband access;
- France, Germany and Spain continue to build high-speed rail and freight networks between cities and as extended cross-border links; Australia is focusing on port expansion, rail rebuilding, and traffic congestion relief projects;
- China is funding a host of wide-ranging infrastructure programs, including completion of a 10,000-mile high-speed rail network by 2020. Other projects include new airports, ports and transit systems, all of which contribute to China’s standing as the world’s second-largest economy;
- India is actively seeking private financing for desperately needed infrastructure to sustain growth and meet its economic potential; and
- Brazil is pushing ahead with road, transit and water projects to accommodate its fast-growing economy, and to prepare for upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics games.
If we’re to continue improving our transportation industry, who doesn’t agree that better public transit is needed amongst and betwixt major cities? Who can’t see that rapid trains are the future, at least for time, cost, and energy savings? Riding China’s fast trains and urban public transit trains so impressed me that it was one of the few times I could actually give the country some credit for gaining all the media hype it does, for causing such competitive concern amongst more developed Western countries. Here’s the rub: these train systems were devised and engineered by Westerners from Germany, the US, England! They’re getting rich making China more efficient whilst governments like the US still shuns funding for major, ameliorative rather than enlarging projects.
“Indeed, China has embarked on the second largest public works program in history, following only the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in size,” wrote Yonah Freemark on The Transport Politic, an elucidating site about the significant of infrastructure.
This is not the time to widen highways; it’s time to evolve. Now is the time to invest in the US. Put money into domestic projects, stop putting it in unwinnable wars in the Middle East. Pay attention to history, for it has a tendency to repeat itself. FDR and Eisenhower gave this country the internal fortitude it needed by domestic funding, not foreign. Or, to appeal to those on the other side of the fence, anyone who’s concerns stem around foreign policy should consider this exactly that: protection of our status, our pride, our energy.
Then there’s just the economics of it. Putting people to work on major infrastructure projects would utilize the country’s rife source of intelligence and spirit of invention. It would also employ people, who go on to spend money in the economy rather than drain it of unemployment and other entitlements.
“What Washington needs is a coherent strategy for infrastructure that goes beyond ‘shovel-ready.’ We need to shift project selection and investment decisions away from a politically-driven process to one that fits our overall economic aims as a country,” Mandel writes.
Where is America’s sense of progress? And how can Americans continue to accept its own hypocritical actions of not wanting war in oil-producing countries yet failing to act fiercely enough to create plans to withdrawal from oil entirely?
Through August the Travel Tuesdays department centers on what’s to be learned from travel. I’ve briefly discussed the differences between non-travelers, tourists, and travelers, and I’ve revealed some enlightening lessons. Today, as forewarned, I’m confessing to how travel has helped me to confirm (at least to myself) some of my best qualities, whilst showing my ugly parts (to many people who didn’t deserve it).
- I can’t take long trips with people.
When my friend Tofu and I went to Costa Rica I had scheduled several appointments with developers and architects, hoping to come back to the US armed with architecture and travel stories to sell. That marked a peak in my freelance writing career. But focusing as much as I did on my career shoved my ego front and center of my life, canceling out bogus attempts to compromise with Tofu, who wanted to travel to see the volcano in Arenal. It fit well into our otherwise loose agenda. However, some strange intuition upon arrival there sent us packing our bags the next day. Granted, the weather didn’t permit seeing the actual volcano, however, Tofu would likely have stayed for days roaming the tiny town’s streets and taking long hikes through the mountains. Who knows what my strange intuition meant? Surely it prevented my ability to compromise with him. I insisted on leaving to Jaco, the beach town full of surfers that we had just left for Arenal. He didn’t complain, yet I knew he was upset. I wish that I’d been better equipped to compromise, to give him what he wanted: a few days hiking the greenery, rather than battling the beach and the surfers (neither of which appealed to him). A conflicting factoid lies within the following travel lesson.
That trip also taught me I sometimes want to relinquish the leading role. I’ve circled the globe, owned my own company, and happily spent half my adult life single. Sometimes I just don’t want to be in charge. Yet it’s rare that I understand how to let someone else do it. He’ll have to be stronger than me.
- Never as good as the first time.
I used to be married to my career and joked that Indian culture was my concubine. My first trip to India in 2006 had such as profound effect that it segmented my life. As BC is to AD my life was “before India” and “after India.” India materialized love. The air, the sun, the humidity, the people, the food, the religious diversity, the palpable spirituality filled me with love. I learned that love comes in more forms than I’d known. I also learned that there’s a world within me that doesn’t link to my career. It wasn’t until my career took a nose dive with the Great Recession that I actually heeded that lesson. I moved to China to teach English at a university and took several months off professional hiatus, a break more than necessary.
My second trip to India revealed her ugly underbelly. I’d returned there in November 2010 with a plan to live there likely indefinitely. But love was nowhere to be found. I may have taken a lover, but as Sharon Stone said in Basic Instinct, “That’s not really the same thing now, is it?” India suddenly seemed to me like the devil who’d swallowed heaven. Admittedly there wasn’t a day when I didn’t see some beauty in it, but that was a marriage that would never be. So long as I treat her like a concubine, in and out for short bursts, perhaps, we can continue our love affair. Until then, I’ll always remember the sirens singing in her ghazals (dramatic Indian ballads).
Today I recognize that kind of fantasy talk in other, newer travelers. Far be it from me, though, to tell them that no matter how many times they return it will never be as good as the first time.
- “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon
None of my plant to turn interviews with Costa Rican (known as Tican) architects materialized. My return to India turned rancid as month-old milk. I still bare the cognitive dissonance of leading versus following, though I am working on it. These are all life lessons that lead me to wonder over the value of education. When seemingly unrelated lessons link a whole new manner of learning is possible.