Saturday, October 02, 2010

Rant About Urban Infrastructure And Government Pump-Priming

America has arguably the worst-planned and least cost-effective public infrastructure among the developed nations.  You can look for confirmation of this from places like the Congress for the New Urbanism or you can check out some blight in my very own San Francisco Bay Area. 

I frequently take BART from The City all the way out to Dublin in the East Bay.  The Dublin BART station is a big gray bunker sandwiched between the east and west arteries of I-580 with one huge parking lot that's always full, one small parking lot that's always empty, and one parking garage under construction that already looks like a big white elephant.  It is two long blocks from the nearest shopping mall and a mile from the clusters of office parks where its riders work.  Residents, riders, and shoppers are everywhere except where they need to be most - right on top of each other. 

Contrast this with the smart development I've seen first-hand in Germany and Asia.  Those countries cluster vast amounts of economic activity around multimodal mass transit nodes.  South Korea is a terrific example.  Seoul's Express Bus Terminal is many stories of shops and restaurants stacked on top of a giant bus station serving a dozen bus routes.  The same holds true for Seoul's Yongsan Electronics Market. 

America is losing its competitive edge because sclerotic suburban wastelands are isolating residents from each other by atomizing them into separate living and working arrangements.  The federal government could have given us a push in the right direction with stimulus spending focused on mass transit infrastructure.  Instead we get happy media pieces about how stimulus spending extended unemployment benefits

People need to live, work, and travel together.  That's how magic happens.  We should be willing to pay for it.