Tidying our shared home: The power of subtraction for better US infrastructure
Analysis: People don't like perceived losses. But the US has much to gain by putting quality of life—rather than "shiny and new"—at the forefront of infrastructure rebuilds.
If her book sales are any indication, you or someone you know have probably used Marie Kondo's "KonMariTM" method for tidying up your home.
Sure, Kondo's approach has some space-saving sock-folding tips, but the real tidying benefits come only if you follow her instructions to subtract everything you don't love from your home. It's nice to have a tidy personal home, but Kondo's advice holds far more potential when we apply it to the infrastructure that connects these personal homes and turns them into communities.
Our infrastructure includes everything from roads to public buildings to sewer lines to the electric grid. Everyone paying attention recognizes the need to make this infrastructure better.
Consider a seemingly bipartisan and non-controversial proclamation from the most recent U.S. State of the Union address. "We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land." Who argues with that?
As a civil engineering professor, I'm all for infrastructure, but worry about prioritizing the "gleaming new" kind over the subtractive KonMariTM kind. For the shared homes that are our communities and planet, what we subtract from infrastructure is at least as important as what we add.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for roads may not work for the electric grid. What works in Staten Island, New York, won't necessarily work in Puerto Rico or Houston.
But there is a common theme among many infrastructure success stories: They improve quality of life, in large part, by KonMariTM-style subtracting.