The sorry state of the United States is not going to be fixed any time soon

Usborne in the USA: The US is 34th in access to water and sanitation in a global livability scale

Share

My dash from the curb to my gate in the Central Terminal of  La Guardia early yesterday was a relative doddle. Because quarters are so tight I could reach to buy papers from the news stand without losing my place in the security queue and the floors were mercifully free of the buckets that come out whenever it rains. Actually they usually use those grey trays that take your carry-ons through the X-ray scanners. They catch more drips.

I’ll be using La Guardia a lot more, it seems, because my other “preferred” airport is Newark in New Jersey. One of the bridges you take to get there – a span of steel called the Pulaski Skyway that you might know from the opening credits of The Sopranos – is seemingly on the verge of collapse so they are closing it for two years for urgent reconstructive surgery. At least you can reach Newark by train, which is not the case for La Guardia.

If you know the US at all, the general dilapidation of its infrastructure will be familiar to you. The roads throughout New York seem like they’ve been shelled with potholes big enough to swallow a stretch Smart Car. The subway system is an assault course, even for the able-bodied. I marvel at all those escalators in the London Tube. As for Penn Station under Madison Square Garden, it’s where the rat and human populations of the city become one.

America likes to think of itself as the most advanced, comfortable, technologically developed country in the world. Yet it’s a myth dating from the post-Second World War years when every home had a giant refrigerator and Neil Armstrong was soon bound for the Moon. I love the place, but in all the years I’ve lived here I have never stopped noticing how myth and reality diverge. You notice because of expectations. Isn’t the United States meant to do better than this?

The disappointment also extends to communications. A new global livability survey, the Social Progress Index, puts the USA at 16th place, just beneath Ireland. The US is 34th in access to water and sanitation and 23rd in enjoyment of cellphones and the internet on account of the fact that one American in five still has no access to the internet. This, as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times points out, is odd in the country that is home to Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, in March the London-based Skytrax rubbed salt in the aviation wound with its latest top-100 list of world’s best airports. Poor old Uncle Sam is entirely absent until you reach Cincinnati, Ohio, at No 27. It used to be a hub for Delta Airlines but not so much any more, which is perhaps why it’s almost acceptable.

You have to love Vice President Joe Biden for saying precisely what you’ve been thinking for years (there is a reason some folk think he’d be a fine replacement for David Letterman who said last week he’ll quit his late-night chat show on CBS after over 20 years). To travel from La Guardia, he said, was like braving the Third World. 

“If I blindfolded someone and took them at two in the morning into the airport in Hong Kong and said, ‘Where do you think you are?’ they’d say, ‘This must be America, it’s a modern airport,’” Biden told an audience in Philadelphia last month. “But if I blindfolded you and took you to La Guardia Airport in New York, you would think, ‘I must be in some third world country’.” The audience roared, and Biden responded: “I’m not joking.”

Indeed he was not. Mr Biden’s speech had a purpose. He and President Barack Obama are trying to persuade Congress to approve a sweeping programme of infrastructure spending across the United States. Their idea in part is that it would generate huge numbers of much-needed new jobs. But it’s also about closing that gap between what America is supposed to be as a country and what it actually is. And keeping it competitive with the rest of the world.

“Other countries are not w daiting to rebuild their infrastructure. They’re trying to out-build us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow,” said Mr Obama on a recent visit to Minneapolis, where an entire bridge fell into the river in 2007, killing 13 (the Pulaski in New Jersey is the same design).

“They know that if they have the fastest trains on the planet or the highest-rated airports or the busiest, most efficient ports, that businesses will go there. We want them to come here.”

The country, he said, was facing an “infrastructure crisis”. He is asking Congress to commit $300bn (£179bn) to repair the country’s transport network and create an infrastructure bank to help the cash go further.

There are scattered plans to plug some of the worst holes, including an ambitious rebuilding of La Guardia’s benighted Central Terminal, at last, and new money for JFK and Newark as well as New Orleans airport, the first facilities that many foreign visitors see when they arrive in America. But with the tax-cutting Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives there is almost no chance of Mr Obama’s wider rebuilding programme being approved. 

America the Beautiful may thus be doomed to look more and more like America the Dilapidated.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the old Palace of Westminster; Batman vs Superman; and more Greenery

John Rentoul
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee