On the night US voters delivered their historic verdict by choosing Barack Obama as the next resident of the White House, voters in California also delivered a result that will play a huge part in reforming America – not surprisingly the news had trouble making it to the surface. If the Obama presidency is seen both domestically and abroad as getting the US metaphorically back on track, then the vote in California literally went a step further by approving a $10bn bond for the construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail network. In isolation it’s a result that’s as stunning as voting in the first African American to the post of commander in chief.
The announcement of a new stretch of high-speed tracks accompanied by an order for rolling stock to zip back and forth along the rails perhaps wouldn’t be big news in Japan, France, Germany or Spain (see our high-speed rail story in issue 18). In car-crazed, and increasingly gridlocked California, however, it’s significant as it sent out a challenge to other regions across the US to start thinking about fast-tracking their own high-speed dreams. It also sent a message to Washington that efficient infrastructure is top of mind for its citizens.
Neither Obama or McCain spent much time talking about their nation’s infrastructure while on the campaign trail, which was surprising given poorly managed airports, road traffic and crumbling bridges always stay in the news for days when they close, grind to a halt or collapse. As the January inauguration comes at a time when the country’s air traffic control system is prone to meltdown due to blizzards, a promise from the podium to improve the state of the transport infrastructure will go far in ensuring that the Obama honeymoon period stretches well beyond the first 100 days in office.
If the new administration wants to see more energy efficient cars made in America by Americans, see a spike in tourism numbers and the development of stronger economic clusters, then investing in innovative and sustainable transport solutions will be key to pulling these feats off. In the background, wholesale reform at Homeland Security would also help ease congestion at airports and make the US a place where people want to visit and do business again. Indeed, the country’s chronically flagging airlines can use all the assistance they can get to ensure that they have high load factors on more profitable long-haul routes.
“The mass movement of human traffic” doesn’t have a very positive ring to it as it conjures up images of a boatload of Senegalese washing up on a beach in southern Spain or a truckload of Chinese workers being intercepted at an Austrian border post, but the movement of people en masse across distances great and small is what keeps country’s competitive, innovative and attractive. Getting the world moving, quite literally, will be a key challenge for the year ahead.
As 2008 draws to a close, the weekly collapse of yet another airline or the poor results of another underscores the fact that a large number of business and leisure travellers are staying put and not venturing beyond their core markets or immediate neighbourhoods. For some, the travel ban might be a question of short-term survival but for many the results of not getting on that plane or train could be far more dramatic. Skipping that conference, missing that research trip and cancelling that meeting all add up to competitive disadvantage.
Whether you’ve decided to sit the next few months out and curtail your travel or you’re still out there on the road doing what you’ve always done, our 2009 Forecast has been created as a book of opportunity to introduce new ideas, challenge tired thinking and make you feel positive about the year ahead. Over the next 186 pages we introduce you to the people we think need a bigger stage, report on potential flashpoints for border conflicts, highlight a host of brands that are worth watching, deliver a round-up on the cultural and media must-buys for the months ahead and introduce the cities that are becoming the new international design hubs. By the time you close the back cover we hope you’ll be prompted to pick Monocle up again and inspired to seize one or a series of the opportunities we’ve identified. Happy 2009.