Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In the Czech Republic

I've spent the past few days in the Czech Republic, including Prague, which I first visited during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It's hard for any visit to measure up to that particular one, given the emotional poignancy of those glorious days when hope and change weren't empty slogans. And, alas, the old city has continued its inevitable transformation into EuroDisney East, complete with Segways and, yes, Starbucks in the Hrad. But we all knew that would happen.

In my limited sampling, what's really impressive is how prosperous and peaceful small town Bohemia and Moravia seem, a quarter century later, and the extensive infrastructure that's been built in recent years, from highways to neighborhood revitalization to university expansion to a network of truly top-notch zoos, of all things. I haven't researched it, but I imagine there must be some European Union money behind it all, but for an American living in the Northeast, where bridges, highways, and rail systems are lucky to hold their own, it's hard not to be given pause. Did we drain all our cash into the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan? Even if we had more of it, would there not be a political fight over any effort to, say, revitalize passenger rail in the northeast or give Atlanta the public transportation system it needs and deserves?

One thing is for sure: twenty-five years ago I wouldn't have dreamed that I'd be looking at provincial Czech infrastructure and institutions and be wondering how we've managed to fall behind.

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