Saturday, September 10, 2005 | Infrastructure is one of those unfortunate words that most ignore or do not understand, yet is the structure of our society. Infrastructure stands for anything upon which you build a society: roads, dams, transportation, bridges, utilities, etc. But now, with Katrina, that ignorance has changed. The millions who stayed glued to their TV sets during and after Katrina rampaged, understood it and its lack. It was the spellbinding lesson and defining of the tragedies that will occur when infrastructure is inadequate or not maintained and improved. It is no longer a boring word.

At Civic Solutions, we are studying infrastructure everywhere to see how other societies preserve it, find money to do it, and solve their problems. The reasons why infrastructure is in crisis in this country are: 1) people are not interested in paying attention to it until it becomes dangerously undersupplied or poorly maintained. They think it is a pothole in front of their home and then they pay attention – to that pothole. Today’s citizen is a consumer of goods, rather than an attentive listener and observer of what makes our society worthwhile; we express a love affair for our children, which simply means that we supply them with transportation to their hobbies and sports and buy the latest craze to keep their attention; 2) cities never have adequate budgets to catch up with these needs because of the indolence of their citizens. Today the catching up would take trillions of dollars and we will never succeed as long as taxes are being cut and insolvency remains a national disease.

New Orleans will be a great demonstration of these truths because the media have covered this tragedy for 24/7, witness to the inevitability of not maintaining infrastructure capable of averting massive floods and destruction, as we seek to blame others for our own indolence! It is also a continuing tale of building homes where they must not be allowed because they subtract too much necessary soil, trees and foundation to prevent equilibrium. There should be more productive use of land which is allowable, higher in design and with greater densities (productivity). This is a time for attached housing, not the spread of single-family housing that uses up too much land – except in suburbia. I’ve been begging for leadership in this simple truth since 1970 and very few paid attention, except those who have taken the time to study and understand our growing problems.

Now we will find that what we had determined was impossible to pay for, becomes necessary to do, that the pothole will expand to engulf an entire city, that death is worse than a flat tire, and that our classless society is too much one of a divided class structure, diluting our attention span and feelings of compassion. Freedom means having the time for important things, not just self-indulgence. Liberty is taking the time to solve our inadequacies as well as our foolishness. It is our choice, not just our leaders.

Sanford “Sandy” Goodkin is acting chairman of Civic Solutions, a group of leaders who analyze San Diego’s problems, prioritize them and search for solutions, representing diverse points of view. He is a trustee of the Urban Land Institute and is a pioneer of residential market and marketing analysis. Read his real estate columns at www.sgoodkin.com

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