OCTOBER 1, 2038
PRESIDENT ROBERT SANCHEZ SPEECH TO NATIONAL ACADEMIES
URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
(EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY)
Tonight, October 1, 2038, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the millennial omnibus infrastructure bill that showed that all
three major political parties could come together to address this nation’s economic and security future. Urban infrastructure has
already changed, in large part because of the efforts of engineers and the Millennial legislation.
How did we get here? At the beginning of the third millennium, over 6 billion people lived in the world and we had a projected
population growth rate of 1.25% that would have resulted in 9.6 billion people today. But the terrorist states war, the regional
nuclear conflict and last decade’s food shortages and pandemics took a toll, limiting today’s world population to 8 billion. The
food shortages further accelerated the movement of people into cities as every acre of arable land was pressed into production.
Urban population now accounts for nearly 90% in more developed countries.
Infrastructure decay that began in the last quarter of the 20th century continued and reached crisis proportions similar to
those experienced by New York City’s subways in the 1970s, Boston’s arterial highway network in the 1980s and England’s
collapsing rail infrastructure in the present millennium. Water pollution was the largest environmental killer in the world and the
majority of the urban population in the then-developing countries did not have access to proper sanitation facilities. But here at
home we faced tremendous issues in potable water supply and subsidence from excessive groundwater extraction. In addition,
power grids suffered from “disinvestment.”
The beginning of this century also provided witness to the intimate coupling between the cityscape we see every day and the
tightly interwoven infrastructure that allows a city to meet the full range of its peoples’ economic, social, political and intellectual
needs. The sudden blatant attack of Sept. 11, 2001, targeted what were iconic symbols of cities in the developed world. But out
of that destruction and subsequent disasters called Katrina, Fukashima, Sandy and Horatio came a new-found awareness. Just
this year we have made a new urban infrastructure paradigm our preferred implementation approach. We now recognize the
importance of our urban infrastructure, resilience and infrastructure’s intricate linkage to the “development” it ties together. The
core tenets of a new infrastructure paradigm include a comprehensive and integrated systems view of development and urban
infrastructure; recognition that deferred maintenance represents a real cost and a real risk; and understanding that operation
and emergency response training is an integral element of critical infrastructure.
There’s another important change: cities and infrastructure of the third millennium required more than an enthusiastic dream.
The cold, analytical methods of the engineer must move to the forefront. The concept of an engineer, commanding a mastery of
numerous social sciences, underscores the delicate but vital relationship between engineering and the broad social problems
that infrastructure often seeks to address. This social awareness, a commitment to the public good, combined with a sense of
leadership and responsibility, has only recently become broadly accepted--thanks to the efforts of these academies. In 2018, the
U.S. finally addressed infrastructure in a long-term, systemic way. Today, in 2038, the generational challenge of rebuilding the
past has been replaced by a sense of generational opportunity. The National Academies have challenged us to realize a future
which we now embrace. A challenge not of words, but of actions, deeds and leadership; a future of hope and success. This and
your engagement must continue. As president, I need your support. n
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