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July/August Industry Observations American Infrastructure

Abby_Pittman

Embracing New Technology to Advance our Aging Infrastructure

 

Our D+ grade allows us an opportunity to develop a new approach on how to improve our deteriorating infrastructure

By Abby Pittman

I distinctly remember the feeling of dread when my teachers reminded the class that we would be receiving report cards at the end of week. I knew, vaguely, what my grades would be – after all, I hadn’t completely checked out of my schoolwork – but there was still a sense of anxiety over the unknown of what the report card would contain.

We all know that the United States of America, arguably one of the most advanced nations in the world, did not do very well on our report card. D+ is a grade that would have been incredibly unacceptable in my house, as well as in most of my friends’ homes. A D+ grade reflects inattention to responsibilities, and an overall poor work quality. What is important here, though, is not the grade but, instead, the opportunity that this grade presents us as a nation.

When you receive a grade like this in school, you have two options. You can continue to submit substandard work and accept that your education is not a valuable asset that you choose to participate in, or you can reassess your work ethic and develop a plan that puts what is most important at the top of the priority list.

Part of developing that plan should include things like adopting new study techniques, leaning on others, participating more in class, and reaching out when help is required. It is time to develop an obtainable and logical plan for our infrastructure to get the U.S. back on track.

I realize that our outlook looks bleak; however, there is something wonderful about being where we are. We now have the opportunity to reevaluate our systems and work out how to improve them. It’s almost like starting from scratch. We have the opportunity to bring our aging infrastructure into the digital age. Since we have entered this stage of technological advancement, we have seen innovation create a snowball effect. Now, we have the opportunity to transfer some of that innovation to our infrastructure.

Other countries have already begun. Our rail systems are nothing compared to places like Europe or Japan. Our public transportation is severely lacking. Here, we can hyperfocus and develop new systems to catch us up to other leading countries. As more and more Millennials who have grown up with smart technology integrate into the workforce after completing their education and securing research and design positions, I propose that they be allowed to shake things up and to face the changes that will inevitably come, head on.

We, as a nation, are proud. We are proud people who see the successes that we have had over the years and relish them. We are proud of the interstate highway system we developed in the 1950s because it tied our country together and led to a decade of economic growth. Now, however, our transportation infrastructure urgently requires our attention and the same level of innovation that we had in the 1950s when the system was developed.

Kim Diamond, CEO of Boaz Energy Group, wrote in her column, Public-Private Partnerships for Water Infrastructure and Stormwater Management, on page 66, that “innovative public works projects are attracting public interest and generating opportunity for architects, city planners, and investors. The prevalence of public-private partnerships has given rise to next generation technology and solutions to integrate water more readily into the built environment, helping the urban landscape to become more ‘sponge-like’ and receptive to water inflow.”

When you look at the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina compared to the more recent Hurricane Harvey, you can see that we are improving. In an age of smart phones, smart cars, and smart houses, it is time that we begin integrating smart infrastructure into our everyday lives. “A combination of forward-thinking and innovative design, and adaptive architecture is a good answer for public works projects aimed at leveraging a water-rich environment, so that water is treated as a valuable commodity, rather than discarded as runoff,” Diamond explains regarding storm water infrastructure.

We received our grade. We answered with a proposal. Now we must implement forward thinking designs and place value on innovation and technological advancement – even if (especially if ) those advancements are coming from an eager Millennial straight out of MIT. We are a nation of innovators, scientists, and forward thinkers, who, once we have a plan of action, are not afraid of hard work.

Abby Pittman is the Editor of American Infrastructure magazine. She can be reached at abby@penpubinc.com

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