Manhattan Dirtier than Singapore
The lovely and talented Belle Waring is visiting her native New York from her home in Singapore and was shocked to find how dirty Manhattan, and in particular the Pulaski Skyway (pictured right), is.
Old metal that’s just black with soot! And graffiti! Man, if I fully acclimatize to the level of cleanliness, safety, and well-built massive public investment projects of Singapore I’ll never be able to move home.
Matt Yglesias, from whom I learned of the above post along with Belle’s husband, John Holbo, observes that, “a country like the United States just isn’t going to be able to compete infrastructure-wise with a newly-prosperous country like Singapore — we have a lot of stuff that’s oldish, but still usable, and shutting it down to fix or replace it would be extremely inconvenient.” He helpfully adds, “But it’s also the case that Singapore’s not spending 1 percent of GDP a year on a misguided effort to control Iraq.”
The latter is
no doubt [probably] true. [Dave Schuler notes in the comments that, “Singapore has been part of the MNF in Iraq since the beginning and have been enthusiastic supporters of the enterprise.”] Then again, I don’t recall Manhattan having been exactly spic and span in 2003. Or, indeed, 1985. So I’m going to discount the war as the proximate cause of the Skyway’s sootiness nothwithstanding that we could undoubtedly get Manhattan quite clean if we were to devote 1 percent of GDP a year to that end.
It does strike me, though, that a newly rich, authoritarian island city state has decided advantages over an enormous continental liberal democracy in presenting a shiny face to the world. If, arguendo, the next president were to come to office with prettying up the infrastructure as a top priority, he’d surely face strong opposition in both Houses of Congress. Members would no doubt prefer to spend limited resources on building new roads and bridges rather than sandblasting the old ones, for reasons both practical and political. Further, infrastructure spending has to compete against other demands, such as health care, education, and, yes, defense. And, of course, there is enormous popular resistance to raising taxes. In hierarchical societies such as Singapore, these constraints are largely absent.
Beyond that,though, I think there are cultural differences. Americans seem much more willing than people in most of the rest of the developed world to accept visual blight. Dilapidated structures, abandoned buildings, garish billboards and neon signage, overhead utility cables, and the like are quite normal even in close proximity to affluent areas. That’s much less the case in, say, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Why this is, I have no idea.
Photo: Doc Searls