Today in Ft. Myers, Florida, President Barack Obama addressed what is arguably the central source of America’s energy crisis, climate crisis, and jobs crisis. And that is the way we’ve civilized ourselves. Or to put it more directly, the design of our spread out, energy-wasting, time-consuming, land-deteriorating, sprawling patterns of development. As Larry the Cable Guy would say, we could go on about this all day. A national smart growth movement that grew up in the 1990s in the United States did go on about the costs of sprawl, and it made a big difference in how we look at America.
Now the president of the United States is talking about what is smart and what is not in community design. Today President Obama addressed sprawl in the most direct language ever used by an American president. ”The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over,” he declared in response to a question from a Ft. Myers resident who said she wanted more rail and alternative infrastructure development, opposed oil imports and new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. (See the video here and go to 56:00 on the timer)
Obama explained that the stimulus bill that he and House leaders proposed contains roughly $10 billion for rail repair and investment. The Senate version has $2 billion for high speed rail. Obama cited Shanghai and Beijing as new models of modern infrastructure development, particularly Shanghai’s German-built Maglev high speed rail line from the airport to downtown. He bemoaned the diminished state of America’s infrastructure, noting the collapse of an Interstate highway bridge in Minneapolis and Miami’s crowded airport.
It’s not that America has ignored how vulnerable its transportation systems are. California voters, for example, approved a $10 billion bond for a high-speed rail system that ties Los Angeles and San Francisco to the Central Valley (see train in pix above). Light rail systems have been built in almost 30 cities since the late 1980s, almost all financed with significant local tax revenues. Public transit ridership last year was off the charts. More than 70 percent of public referendums to build or modernize transit systems have been approved since the early 1990s, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence.
“We also have to plan for the future. This is the same example of turning crisis into opportunity. This should be a wake up call for us,” Obama said.
“Look,” he added, “this is America. We always had the best infrastructure. We were always willing to invest in the future.”
Obama continued: “Transportation is not just fixing our old transportation systems. It’s also imagining the new transportations systems. I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. I would like us to invest in mass transit because, potentially, that’s energy- efficient. I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally in terms of how we plan our transportation infrastructure. The days when we’re just building sprawl forever. Those days are over. Republicans. Democrats. Everybody recognizes that that’s not a smart way to design communities.”
– Keith Schneider