America's Crumbling Urban Infrastructure

The collapse of the New Orleans' levee system is just one example of how the nation's urban infrastructure is deteriorating. Where are the visionaries that built America's greatest cities?
October 13, 2005, 10am PDT | Abhijeet Chavan
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"For decades now, we have been witnessing the slow, ruthless dismantling of the nation's urban infrastructure. The crumbling levees in New Orleans are only the most conspicuous evidence of this decline: it's evident everywhere, from Amtrak's aging track system to New York's decaying public school buildings.

Rather than confront the causes of that deterioration, we are encouraged to overlook it, lost in a cloud of tourist distractions like casinos, convention centers, spruced-up historic quarters and festival marketplaces.

The inadequacy of that vision has now become glaringly obvious. And the problem cannot simply be repaired with reinforcement ba"rs or dabs of cement. Instead, our decision makers will have to face up to what our cities have become, and why."

"Today, the true descendants of [America's early] visionaries are more likely to be working in the Netherlands or Spain than in a major American city...he strongest evidence of the [Bilbao's enlightened planning is the enormous investment it made in a new high-tech subway system designed by the British architect Norman Foster. It's hard to imagine a similar undertaking in an American city today, especially when the federal government seems more concerned about doling out private contracts than reversing decades of neglect. The challenge we face is not just about infrastructure. It's about reknitting the connective tissue that binds us into a functioning society. This cannot be accomplished by retreating into a haze of denial; what's needed is an honest acknowledgment of what's brought us here. New Orleans was a warning."

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Published on Wednesday, October 12, 2005 in The New York Times
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