Wednesday, August 29, 2007

those who forget the past are...

With the impending 2nd anniversary of the Flood of New Orleans (and Katrina), Joel Kotkin weighed in with a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, describing the largely unlearned lessons of the Flood and their application to other American infrastructure problems.

Two years ago, as floodwaters overcame the tired defenses of New Orleans, American cities got a wake-up call about the dangers of inadequate infrastructure. But most urban leaders went back to sleep. Since then the occasional disaster, such as the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, has been followed by tut-tutting. But if history is a guide, the rhetoric will be followed by another tap of the snooze button.

Rather than deal with the expensive and difficult task of retrofitting the sinews of commerce and communication — bridges, tunnels, roads, rail lines, ports, sewers, and drainage systems — America's urban powers focus on the ephemeral and the glitzy. They emphasize not brick and mortar, but sports stadia, convention centers, arts palaces, dubiously effective new light-rail lines, hotels and condo projects.

Even in New Orleans, federal and local authorities still have not agreed on a long-term infrastructure plan to protect the city. More disturbing: Instead of looking to rebuild a diverse economy, the emphasis is on cultivating tourism and "culture-based" industry....Reinventing New Orleans as a mildly raucous, hipper Disney World could spark a renaissance of sorts. But it offers scant hope for many middle-class families who fled the real city two years ago.

Among other examples, Kotkin applies the lessons to the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Transportation priorities are also skewed. Government officials in Minnesota spent mightily on a light-rail system that last year averaged barely 30,000 boardings daily. It did not focus nearly as much on overstressed highway bridges, or the bus systems serving the bulk of its mostly poor and minority transit riders. Most other light-rail systems, built in cities with highly dispersed employment, also have minuscule ridership, but consume a disproportionate share of transit funds that might go to more cost-efficient systems, including bus-based rapid transit.

Ouch! These are the sorts of decisions that go along with a (common) failure to carefully consider all of the relevant costs and benefits of a given policy decision-- and the necessary trade-offs that ensue.


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