When we turn on a faucet or flip a light switch, we rarely consider the vast networks and complex systems behind them. But vast and complex they are: More than 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines bring power to the farthest reaches of our country; people and goods travel to their destinations along nearly four million miles of roads; our water comes to the tap by way of nearly 55,000 separate drinking water plants.

 

One of the more remarkable aspects of infrastructure is how little we think about it. Hardly anyone grasps that infrastructure is to a society what the circulatory system is to a human body: a series of vital, interwoven transmission belts for moving not just things but also people, services and ideas. We think even less about the history of this vast circulatory system as an expression of our political culture. America’s power, water and transportation infrastructures have long been correctly regarded as marvels of the modern age. More important, perhaps, is that in a nation proud of private initiative and responsibility, and of government both small and Federal, infrastructure has long forced us to adapt our ideology to necessity. Roads and canals, and eventually railroads, telegraphs and electricity grids, all evolved over the course of our nation’s history into government obligations requiring varying degrees of investment, management and maintenance on behalf of what was well understood to be critical to both our economy and national security. Our infrastructure’s history is thus composed not just of invention, engineering and construction, but also of finance, management and planning. It reflects a synergy of action between a variety of players from the market economy and in government at the municipal, county, state and Federal levels.

 

 

Published By: The American Interest 

 Download Related Document(s): Re-imagining Infrastructure

 

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