How renewing U.S. infrastructure can create resilient, shared prosperity

The following is excerpted from “Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead” by Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School. Copyright 2015 by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Infrastructure that works for the 21st century could usher in a new transportation era for the nation and a renewed sense of national purpose, contributing to a bright future of shared prosperity.

At least, that’s the hope. Consider all there is to be gained if we lift our sights beyond fixing potholes, decrepit bridges and broken rail track joints — all of which should be done — to reimagining how we move and the platforms we move on. We could empower pilots in the air, empower passengers on the ground and use technology to gain choices. We could enjoy people-centered cities and could have infrastructure for mobility that is technology enabled, safe and efficient, environmentally sustainable and opportunity focused.

For nearly six decades, America has neglected or underinvested in some critical aspects of transportation and infrastructure; fallen behind in international comparisons; generated some of the world’s best technology but lagged in applying it; ceded leadership in manufacturing for some transportation sectors; and let cities deteriorate and remain divided into rich or poor, often by race. The daily delays and longer-term delays in modernization jeopardize productivity and quality of life.

America needs to move. Not simply for repair and renewal of aging systems but also for reinvention of transportation and infrastructure through exciting technology in the hands of every person, to help us all become more mobile, more easily and sustainably.

The result will be an America that works better for communities and businesses, creating millions of immediate jobs and opening numerous new business opportunities. It could enhance our stature in the world as we regain the lead and become the place everyone must visit to see how the future works. Even better yet is the human dividend in lives enriched. Infrastructure could be the Big Apple demonstration that America can solve big problems again; if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.

Sixty years ago, national defense goals shaped an infrastructure and transportation era whose legacy still defines American society. Today, we need a new national goal and rallying cry as compelling as the highways, the personal vehicles and a race to the moon. The 21st-century version could be a race for mobility.

Its goal: to ensure that we are the most advanced nation in getting where we need to go safely, efficiently and cost-effectively, conveniently with access for all citizens, sustainably with reduced carbon and pollution, and best able to open new opportunities for jobs and development. And while we’re at it, we could reduce disparities by providing more people more access to those jobs and opportunities.

To get America moving toward building the national future we want with the infrastructure we need, we can focus on six arenas for action:

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