It's been a long winter and I've been feeling a bit grouchy of late. So I hope you'll bear with me while I unload a bit about some recent reading I've done about the design and construction field, leading me to the question: When exactly did we become a “can't do” country?

I guess this was all prompted by a recent 60 Minutes report I saw on the status of reconstruction at New York's Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 tragedy. The area still pretty much remains a foundation site, with completion of only the first of eight planned structures slated for 2013. In short, on the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the attack, the site will still be essentially a hole in the ground.

Compare this with the well-known story of the Empire State Building (check out The Empire State Building by John Tauranac if you can find it), which rose 86 stories at a rate of nearly one story per working day in the early 1930s. Not only were the constructors no-nonsense in getting this done, so was the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. Richmond H. Shreve in particular made it his business to focus on the practicalities-strictly observing New York's setback regulations while providing the developers with the most rentable space possible in quick order, but with careful attention to detail creating an elegant, timeless architectural masterpiece.

Returning (sigh) to modern times, I read about a key downtown bridge here in Cleveland, called the Inner Belt Bridge, which is in such sorry shape that the outer lanes on both sides have been closed down to heavy traffic. The Inner Belt suffers from the same structural ailment that collapsed the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, costing 13 lives. Reports indicate we'll be lucky to see a replacement completed in three years. Minneapolis, of course, did in fact get a brand new bridge, replete with modern sensing technology, in a head-spinning 13 months. “Can do” does still reside here, although apparently requiring fatalities to ignite the flame.

More of our rotting infrastructure hit the news in 2008 when a 36-inch water main just outside our office burst and created a raging brown river that surrounded us for the better part of a day. The reporting on this indicated that we should have expected it-the main was over 100 years old-and pointed out that water systems, bridges, and highways throughout the country require major attention and upgrades. The mysterious workings of the federal stimulus program notwithstanding, the outlook for this happening systematically anytime soon remains dim.

Then there was the recent news story on today's employment picture in construction, an economic disaster area if ever there was one. With the country's overall unemployment hovering around 10%, construction unemployment has hit a Depression-worthy 24.7%! Our readers may have seen healthcare construction escape the worst of this, but not by much. In general, there's a lot of work that needs to get done out there, and plenty of people to do it, but it's not happening.

What happened to America's get up and go? Why do we spend so much time and energy telling each other what we “can't do?” When will we recover our stride as the country that can do and will do, just about better than anyone else when we put our minds to it? HD

Healthcare Design 2010 April;10(4):64