When the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a D+ “report card” this year, maybe the United States should have been proud of its first improved grade in 15 years. But moving from D to D+ still means we need to take tremendous strides to make our cities “smarter.”

Raising our grade to a C isn’t that far out of reach. In fact, we can probably do even better.

The United States has demonstrated an uncanny ability to compete and innovate at high levels despite its often decrepit infrastructure — some pipes and railroads predate the first radio transmission and airplanes. What the civil engineers’ ranking really shows is that the United States has an enormous opportunity to surpass our global competition — succeed at “A” levels in the global economy — if we can just improve our playing field a little more.

So how do we move from near-failing, non-competitive infrastructure to top-of-the-class performance? We unleash our cities to learn, communicate, analyze and improve — just as we expect from our best and brightest thinkers.

As any teacher knows, students learn at different paces. Some need special emphasis to catch up. This same approach applies to making our cities smarter. What San Francisco needs to improve its energy efficiency is probably different than the needs of Denver. Customized approaches are the key to improvement.