The low cost of energy, federal subsidies in the form of expressways (but not public transportation) fueled (!) a migration of people out to that land of autonomy, low taxes, and self-sufficiency, the suburbs and exurbs. Now of course people have realized that those place are soul-crushingly monotonous places to spend one's days. David Brooks has also realized this. And the massive FDR-style infrastructure of the Obama administration should step up to remedy the situation. Nothing like small government conservatives! He writes:
People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds. So in the past years there has been a new trend. Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.
Anyway, now for David Brooks's proposal for the Obama plan:
To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system — a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it’s better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems.
Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs.
That stuff sounds really like a state-driven urban renewal plan once undertaken by a guy named Benito. So much for Brooks' conservatives. The people moved out to the burbs, turned it into a nightmare of alienation, traffic, and high fuel prices (they'll be back folks) and now they need to be bailed out by Obama in a massive suburban investment plan. Why this? Well, the alternative is just too boring to contemplate:
But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.
In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.
Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan, at least as it has been sketched out so far, is notable for its lack of creativity. Obama wants to put more computers in classrooms, an old idea with dubious educational merit. He also proposes a series of ideas that are good but not exactly transformational: refurbishing the existing power grid; fixing the oldest roads and bridges; repairing schools; and renovating existing government buildings to make them more energy efficient.
This is the federal version of “This Old House.” And this is before the stimulus money gets diverted, as it inevitably will, to refurbish old companies. The auto bailout could eventually swallow $125 billion. After that, it could be the airlines and so on.
It's so boring and uncreative to fix decaying infrastructure in an infrastructure investment plan! On my way to school this morning, I was bored to tears by the tedium of the mini lagoons of frozen dirty water festooning Bryn Mawr avenue, the sewers too aged to handle large but extremely common influxes of water. I'm also bored by the idea that the power grid cannot handle green power innovation–what would be cool is a street with cafes and bookstores on it in a far out suburb. Fixing this stuff shows a lack of creative vision.