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Reframing the Nation’s Infrastructure Problem

Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes in the Harvard Business Review that American business needs to reframe the narrative around the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in order to “craft a vision to stimulate new actions.”

514BZOmNRpL“Repairing America’s deteriorating infrastructure – crumbling bridges, congested highways, outmoded airports and train tracks, crowded runways – is important, but not enough. Transportation infrastructure must be renewed and reinvented. Systems conceived and built 50-60 years ago should be reimagined for the 20th century, whether high speed trains, innovative public transit, or technology-enabled roads and vehicles that tap the potential of sensors, smartphones, wireless networks, and Big Data for greener, cleaner, more efficient mobility. This could usher in an era of accelerated growth, with a renewed sense of national purpose and shared prosperity.”

“Infrastructure has no ideology or party; bridges can collapse in red states as readily as in blue states. A new narrative could show how past infrastructure investments created opportunity. A new vision could look beyond maintenance to investments that build communities, create a foundation for the nation’s future, and spur economic growth. That growth could in turn generate trillions more in returns while improving opportunity and quality of life. Framing it that way would put in perspective the trillions of dollars the OECD and the American Society of Civil Engineers say is required to put American back in the lead.”

“To mobilize public support for new investment, leaders must change the conversation to align diverse interests and emphasize cross-sector partnerships, region by region. Technology entrepreneurs should be at the table with established companies, elected officials, financiers, and consumers. Citizen voices and votes can encourage action.”

A new book by the author is MOVE: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead. It was recently reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, which writes that Kantor “sets herself the ambitious goal of showing us how to transform America’s infrastructure from an embarrassment into an opportunity for higher productivity, profit and living standards. ‘Move’ is long on lamentations of our woeful public conveyances and on celebrations of the modern wonders we might enjoy if only we made infrastructure a higher priority. The sections proposing specific remedies are shorter, perhaps because there are so few.”

While the review notes “self-serving comments from gabby executives and politicians” and “occasional sloppiness as well,” it judges that “despite the flaws, ‘Move’ deserves attention as a call to action.”

But as the book describes the situation: “It all adds up to a new vision for American mobility, where local leaders shape initiatives without waiting for Congress to act, and ambitious companies partner with governments to tackle projects that serve the public good, create jobs, and improve quality of life while providing healthy sources of investment. With unique insight and unrivaled expertise, Kanter gives us a sweeping look across America, revealing the innovative projects, vital leaders, and bold solutions that are moving our transportation infrastructure toward a cleaner, faster, and more prosperous future.”