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What Do You Think the Defining Infrastructure Project of the 21st Century Will Be?

by Sarah Goodyear

The construction of the interstate highway system defined the landscape of late-20th-century America. What will be the transformative infrastructure of the 21st century?

As Noah Kazis wrote on Streetsblog NYC, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) would like to think that it will be — the interstate highway system.

But people who don’t pour asphalt for a living have some other ideas. Portland Transport pointed us to a post on Richard Florida’s blog in which he listed some ideas his readers had on the subject of change-making infrastructure for the future. They included high-speed rail, a universal broadband network, and denser, more walkable communities.

All of which sound pretty good. But it remains to be seen if any of those solutions have the kind of political muscle behind them that the highway lobby has enjoyed for the last half-century.

What do you think the defining infrastructure project of the 21st century will be, or should be? Are such grand projects even possible in the current economic and political climate?

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog.

Image of LA freeway ramps courtesy of Flickr photographer Payton Chung under the Creative Commons License.

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The passive solarization of the worlds building infrastructure

Posted by: Tim Andonian on 2 Jun 10

It may be a more general form of 'passive solarization', but I think that the opening of infrastructure in general, would be a pretty definitive project in its own right.

By that I mean an increased engagement between people and how the systems they rely on work... and whether or not they *are* working.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 2 Jun 10

One major infrastructure boom will be in consumer-owned solar utilities. I envision large solar parks sited in locations and markets with the best ROI and the least ecological impact fractionally owned by people from across the country/world. This will address two problems: 1-Why install solar on your home or building when it would earn higher returns elsewhere, and 2-Why pay a utility company a premium for electricity when you can own your own generation capacity?

Our solar charity project,, is doing something very similar to this now: The revenue from the array funds global poverty assistance programs.

Posted by: Rob Powell on 3 Jun 10

Bigger than the Internet! Well, maybe bigger than Wal-Mart. Anyway, I think these could really ease traffic and pollution in cities. Cheap, too. Check out Bike Skyway

Posted by: Ron on 3 Jun 10

A smart grid linking all major sites where renewable energy can be competitive with all major centres of electricity consumption. Huge potential to lower energy costs, improve security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by: Jan Peter Onstwedder on 3 Jun 10

The world is overpopulated. Something must be done to put a lid on this cancerous tumour (i.e. mankind) growing unchecked forever in the body of mother earth. Talk not of ever more infrastructure. Make the new infrastructure not needed somehow in the first place. How? I don't know.

Posted by: John789 on 5 Jun 10

The defining infrastructure project of the 21st century will will emerge out of the adoption and mandatory utilization of 'Biodiversity as infrastructure' in all future development.

Posted by: Barry Fitzpatrick on 5 Jun 10

the defining infrastructure project on Earth will be transforming every aspect of how we live to a fully sustainable society. Everything that we do will have to be changed until we have zero negative impact and live in a fully restorative manner. This means complete extended producer responsibility for all goods and services; zero waste; phasing out all use of toxic chemicals; restoration of the natural environment; and 100% use of renewable energy. Join me in creating such a world. Robwheeler22 @

Posted by: Rob Wheeler on 9 Jun 10

I agree with some of the commentors here that solar energy will play a big part but I wouldn't limit it to just that. I believe that we are going to have to incorporate more and more of the latest technologies that we have into moder and furture construction.

Trane heat pumps are such a product that can be used to help save energy and reduce energy costs.

Posted by: james mentz on 9 Jun 10

Orbital Power Transmission? Back in the '70s, a scientist proposed a series of satellites that could bounce energy in the form of high-powered microwave transmissions from one part of the planet to another.

This would allow renewable energy in remote parts of the planet to be channeled to the more populace parts. Rural villages could get electricity without expensive high-voltage wires or power plants. Developing countries would have an alternative to coal and nuclear power. Even existing power plants would be able to run more efficiently by producing power at a steady rate instead of burning high or low to meet demand; the orbital network would provide or absorb extra power as needed to keep things balanced.

Posted by: Michael on 14 Jun 10

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