Duke Reiter: In the course of my expe­ri­ence I’ve lived in mul­ti­ple cities, includ­ing two whose very exis­tence has been ques­tioned, New Orleans and Phoenix, and in each case around the issue of water. Obviously in the case of one too much water, the oth­er too lit­tle. One below sea lev­el, one in an arid desert envi­ron­ment.

I moved to the city of Phoenix and to ASU in 2003. And it was from here in 2005 that I observed hur­ri­cane Katrina hit New Orleans and the waters over­top the lev­ee sys­tem there. That was a very pre­dictable dis­as­ter. The city of New Orleans has been imper­iled by water from its found­ing.

In Phoenix, it’s a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion, obvi­ous­ly. This is a hot cli­mate, and one pro­found­ly lack­ing in water. But what these two cities have in com­mon is that each were made pos­si­ble by extra­or­di­nary feats of engi­neer­ing to either keep water out of the city, or to bring water to it. And in the case of Phoenix across hun­dreds of miles of desert. These are high­ly arti­fi­cial con­struc­tions, and their fragili­ty is built right into the struc­tures that makes them pos­si­ble.

One of the things that New Orleans and Phoenix share is that they’re both on the same street, so to speak. The US inter­state I‑10. I’ve noticed frankly that many of the oth­er cities along this tran­sect reveal in addi­tion to water some of the major issues of our time in their high­est relief.

Take for exam­ple glob­al trade and com­merce. Certainly reg­is­tered in one of the largest ports in the world, Los Angeles, and one of only two megac­i­ties in the United States. Or the future of ener­gy, cen­tral to the ques­tion of Houston and how we will con­tin­ue to either burn fos­sil fuels or find alter­na­tives. Or in the very news today. Immigration, what’s a bor­der. How could that be more pro­found­ly reg­is­tered than in the city of El Paso or Ciudad Juárez, a bi-national city?

We could be learn­ing from the lived expe­ri­ence of peo­ple in the I‑10 cor­ri­dor. We should be lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries, record­ing them, and respond­ing to the issues in their com­mu­ni­ties.

I would sug­gest that uni­ver­si­ties have a unique oblig­a­tion to show us who we are, what we’re becom­ing, and how we can respond to alter­na­tive futures. Accordingly, we’ve built a project called Ten Across. A project that spans the coun­try from the Pacific to the Atlantic, runs through the three largest states in the union. This is a project we think is unique­ly suit­ed to ASU, the new American University. Can, for exam­ple, we look at poten­tial dis­as­ters, things that are high­ly pre­dictable, and avoid them? I think as humans we also have an innate aver­sion to think­ing that far into the future, to plan­ning. But the Ten Across project is about sug­gest­ing the val­ue of doing so. Of respond­ing to chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties and cre­at­ing a bet­ter world.

Further Reference

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