Today I would like to connect infrastructure improvements to both jobs and social interactions.
With all the talk of the thus-far jobless recovery, investment in transportation and other infrastructure may never be more important. We have shipped so many of many of our manufacturing jobs overseas, and that has dramatic consequences because the people who used to have those jobs are not trained to suddenly take desk or service jobs. However, construction and its related needs–such as concrete production–cannot be shipped overseas.
Bob Herbert noted the tremendous importance of infrastructure in America historically and the incredibly important role it will play in the American future. He stated the obvious, that we have neglected our infrastructure for too long and that if America is to thrive once again it will be on the back of dependable infrastructure:
We used to be so much smarter about this stuff. A recent publication from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution reminds us that:
“Since the beginning of our republic, transportation and infrastructure have played a central role in advancing the American economy — from the canals of upstate New York to the railroads that linked the heartland to industrial centers and finally the interstate highway system that ultimately connected all regions of the nation.
“In each of those periods, there was a sharp focus on how infrastructure investments could be used as catalysts for economic expansion and evolution.”
Policy makers all but gave up on that kind of thinking years ago. America’s infrastructure, once the finest in the world, has been neglected for decades, and it shows. Felix Rohatyn’s book on the subject, “Bold Endeavors,” opens with: “The nation is falling apart — literally.”
It’s almost as if we no longer understand the crucial links between infrastructure and the health of the American economy, the state of the environment and the viability of the nation as a whole. We’ve become stupid about this.
While it is a tangential connection, I would like to suggest that building improved transportation infrastructure is also important for the social capital of this country. We are becoming increasingly disjointed and independent, living in digital social realms and within cubicles that frequently separate us from each other, getting to work individually in cars. It is rare outside the sporting event and church that we feel immersed in communal space and the larger venture that we acknowledge as society.
Slate recently wrote about social interactions on the subway and how people react to certain requests, such as the ability to take a seat. There is a certain etiquette to traveling on public transportation, and admittedly different rules for different modes in different places. However, it is amazing how the little things of seeing people of different socio-economic status, age and ability is of great value to our sense of place and understanding. Moreover, transportation is the great uniter. Working for the MBTA this past summer, everyone always reacted to my experience with a story or notion about public transit.
Getting people out of their cars and into shared spaces is an important element of reuniting a divided society and to do it we need to invest in infrastructure, one of the keys to jobs for people of all talents and classes, going forward.