Infrastructure and Democracy

In the bitterly contested 2016 U.S. presidential election, one of the few things that the candidates agreed upon was that America's infrastructure was in dire need of revitalization. This article posits that should President Trump follow through on his promise for infrastructure investment, he should learn from previous efforts where public engagement enhanced social outcomes and prioritize broad access. The idea is explored that U.S. infrastructure development shows that the activities of disenfranchised citizens, not the benevolence of private operators or the foresight of policy makers, have been responsible for broad access for all classes and groups of society, starting with railroads, followed by electrification, and present-day experience with broadband Internet. The combined histories of these three things shows that few networks were built with the wider public in mind, even though they offer considerable social and economic return on investment. As such, the authors believe it is time to rethink policies for addressing the present infrastructural problems. Trump's plan calls for a significant expansion in public-private partnerships (PPPs) to provide infrastructural services to end-users, instead of channeling public investment through public agencies. It is put forth that instead of proprietary contracts between public authorities and private-sector operators, citizen input should be facilitated by specially structured agreements, and success should be defined in publicly accountable ways beyond cost and schedule.


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  • Accession Number: 01630257
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Mar 27 2017 9:34AM