Across the country, transportation and utility department directors are repairing roads, extending sewers and building water lines. Other officials are managing airports, libraries, parks, police and fire departments. This is the daily, weekly and monthly life of city and state government, managing these essential but ordinary assets.
What’s interesting is that once upon a time all these services weren’t just accepted, but were seen as mere dreams. They were aspirations, which some people shared and others thought foolish and unwise. Public water systems were a wild idea in the mid-19th century. The construction of the secondary road system in the early 20th century was an immense task, with dozens of bureaucratic battles and choices. The idea of every city having a library was a pipedream until Andrew Carnegie spent a chunk of his immense fortune to build about a thousand of them more than 100 years ago. Even the idea that every child was entitled to an education at public expense was once controversial and a much debated notion (and one that wasn’t fully settled until well into the 20th century).