Infrastructure: it’s more than concrete


By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Remember Andrew Carnegie, the founder of the public library and a man who built enormous wealth during the oil and coal based industrial revolution?

He knew that leaving a legacy and making a difference was more than just an accumulation of money – in fact, the money accumulated, as he well knew, is destructive to individuals as well as to savings. As Carnegie put it, “Man must have an idol, but the accumulation of wealth is one of the worst kinds of idolatry. No idol is more demeaning than the cult of money.

In all directions and in all categories, we as a nation, and certainly as a region, appear to be in a state of transition, even crisis.

Whether it’s our place in the global economy or local potholes, schools or tax rates, everything seems to be in motion, and not very similar, to put it mildly, to put it mildly. which seemed so certain and solid a few years ago. There are more contributing factors to this situation than one could name. And no generation, era or political party can escape blame.

Take into account our regulatory processes. Yes, a century or two of accumulation of rules, expectations and intentions has confused and contradicted all original and once clear intentions (even those, like the Red Line, with questionable goals), but when the cost of ‘a (sometimes simple) project is multiplied, or its completion compromised, by regulations, you know something is deeply flawed in our system.

A typical mile of rapid transit systems in the United States, for example, costs twice as much as in Europe, due to bureaucratic delays, consultation fees and, of course, almost endless litigation.

And it’s no surprise to anyone living in the greater Tacoma area, the average highway project in the United States takes 9.5 years to work its way through the authorization and approval process.

And some projects that we could mention are well above average.

Planning is easy, the saying goes, execution, not so much.

Progress, whether for individuals, communities or nations, rests on three things; clarity of the mission; speed of project development; and the confidence that comes from successfully leveraging our strengths and achievements.

In other words, everyone from stakeholders to community members to workers needs answers to a few key questions; what are we doing? How can we make it happen? And are we making progress, even a single step every day?

With clarity of purpose comes the urgency – and the ultimate multiplier effect – unity.

And, of course, without clarity of purpose comes confusion and demoralization – which for a society or individual – means waste and self-destruction.

Whether it’s an interstate transportation project or an individual’s drug addiction, clarity of purpose sets the stage and often highlights the next step – or more. And without it, no progress can be made.

Unlike previous eras, when a common threat united us, common threats like COVID, climate change or crippling income inequality seem to divide us even more.

We have decisions to make and funds to generate and allocate – and arguments about every aspect of every problem.

“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are. – James W. Frick

We seem to have forgotten a very important guiding principle; infrastructure, above all, is about creating lasting value for the public, for all of us – and the current atmosphere of debate, even open conflict, ignores how urgently we need to make the system work – for us all.

Some countries seem to be doing great things, like high-speed, energy-efficient, safe and reliable public transport systems that cross borders, cultures and language barriers at record speeds – both in construction and in the world. passenger experience.

Long-lived traditional cultures operate on a principle they hardly ever articulate because it is so fundamental, and which we in the United States don’t use because we don’t know it; the more you give, the more you have and the more you grab, the more you lose.

This is true in all walks of life, from trust and friendship to money and, yes, infrastructure.

Almost any worthwhile infrastructure project will take, at a minimum, about ten years – usually longer, often much longer.

In other words, many of those who have planned or worked on a given project will not live to see it.

This is, by any definition, what “culture” is; the developments, ideas and beliefs of previous generations which left a basis for those to follow.

Some infrastructures are solid and visible, such as bridges or railways.

Other infrastructures are more subtle, but no less powerful and impactful.

These can be values, policies or beliefs that frame and define a nation or culture.

Our attitudes towards education, citizenship, crime (and punishment) and, perhaps more than anything, our responsibility to future generations are the unspoken and unspoken membrane that binds us all together.

If you are traveling to a foreign country (as an American), especially almost anywhere in Europe or Asia, you will probably be struck by the “uniformity” of these cultures.

In Japan, for example, pretty much everyone is, wait, Japanese. And every Japanese citizen knows, consciously or unconsciously, what is expected of them in terms of work ethics, public behavior and personal behavior.

We in America basically don’t have such self-awareness.

How does a stereotypical “American” “act” in a given situation?

Unfortunately, we see it in real life or in the media.

Americans are known to demand their “freedom”, their “rights” and, of course, their privileges.

American overseas tourists are notorious for being rude, condescending, and critical of almost every aspect of the foreign experience they have paid for and chosen to have.

America’s public tantrums abroad are legendary.

And, for better or for worse, we are seeing more and more of them here.

Arguments, denials, even assaults against medical staff, restaurant workers or even on flights (in the air!) Have become everyday news.

Our unspoken infrastructure, like the way we behave and treat each other in public, is at least as important and as revealing as any bridge or high-speed rail line.

The two prongs, the tangible and the behavioral, are an investment in each other and in the future.

And the more we keep, protect, even fight for what we have, the more likely we are to see it disappear.

And the more we share, invest and engage in what is important to us, the more we, and everyone else, will have.

This has always been America’s promise – opportunity, freedom, and justice for all, not just those who hoard and lock up.

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