Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age

THE BREAKTHROUGH AMERICAN infrastructure of the early 19th century was the Erie Canal, which connected the Midwest farm belt with the Port of New York and the eastern seaboard. In the second half of the 19th century, the railroad offered the next infrastructure revolution by connecting the two oceans and the continent in between. In the middle of the last century, the transformational infrastructure was the Interstate Highway System, consummating America’s 20th-century love affair with the automobile. Each new wave of infrastructure underpinned a half-century of economic growth. Yet each wave of infrastructure also reached its inherent limits, in part by causing adverse side effects and in part by being overtaken by a new technological revolution. And so it will be with our generation. The Automobile Age has run its course; our job is to renew our infrastructure in line with new needs, especially climate safety, and new opportunities, especially ubiquitous online information and smart machines.

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