Urban Researchers Call Upon Federal Government to Give Cities Greater Say on Infrastructure Spending and Reform

Urban Researchers Call Upon Federal Government to Give Cities Greater Say on Infrastructure Spending and Reform

With the new administration should come a new federal infrastructure package, complete with a thorough consultation and complete reform of the American infrastructure system, according to a report released by the Kinder Institute.

The report was co-authored by William Fulton and Henry Cisneros. Fulton is the director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, and formerly served as the director of planning & economic development for the city of San Diego as well as the mayor of Ventura, California. Cisneros is the Chairman and Co-CIO of American Triple I Partners and Partner & Vice Chairman of Siebert Williams Shank & Co. LLC, formerly serving as the Secretary of The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio.

Historically, the federal government has taken a “top-down approach” to making changes in infrastructure, dictating on a federal level what gets built locally based on city lobbyists. However, in the report, Fulton and Cisneros call for reform, stating that giving cities –especially the nation’s major metropolitan areas—more say in the process is key to the implementation of effective infrastructure updates.

They argue that the federal government needs to implement a more responsive report in order to best meet the cities’ needs. Regional leaders should prioritize infrastructure needs based on level of importance.

The Basis of the Report

They cite a survey that they conducted last year of infrastructure priorities in 134 cities and 100 metropolitan areas. In the 2020 survey, they asked for the top five infrastructure priorities and any projects that increased in importance and rose in priority due to the pandemic. The survey gave the researchers a basis for a national database of infrastructure issues and projects, covering 1800 projects nationwide.

The survey findings identified five major themes of project priorities. The first is Transportation. Cited as the “primary building blocks” of federal infrastructure strategy, the participants agree that transportation projects such as the expansion of highways and improvement of mass transit options should be given high priority. The second theme is public facilities. The issue of public facilities was especially prevalent in older communities, as these cities were more likely to be utilizing obsolete technologies, and areas with fast-growing populations, in which keeping up with population booms has proven to be difficult. This has been especially relevant throughout the pandemic, with COVID highlighting the nation’s need for more health facilities and public parks.

The third theme in survey responses was that of water, and wastewater. Accelerating projects that help bring those in disenfranchised communities clean drinking water, as well as addressing and planning for extreme weather-related emergencies and taking the necessary steps to address water issues related to climate change. On a similar note, energy projects were another major concern. Furthermore, more than half of the energy-related concerns were related to the search for and implementation of renewable energy projects, indicating that local populations care about finding renewable sources of energy and reducing emissions.

Finally, the last major issue was that of communications. Though communications infrastructure has been a long-standing issue particularly for rural and disadvantaged populations, the onset of the pandemic has revealed just how deep the problem runs. Investing in the reform of communications infrastructure is essential for closing the communications gap and providing equal education and employment opportunities for residents of underprivileged areas.

Suggested Areas of Focus

After analyzing the results, the surveyors also found three major areas to focus on as part of implementing a new national strategy. The first area is post-pandemic infrastructure. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a series of major infrastructure issues that have gone overlooked. These issues include a lack of widespread broadband access, issues with emergency response protocol and limitations with health facilities, and a lack of emphasis on public transportation, vital for many essential workers. Prioritizing these issues will help citizens living in disadvantage communities bounce back once the pandemic is over.

The second major issue found was the issue of climate resilience. 27% of the projects suggested by the survey participants dealt with the issues of climate change and climate resilience in some way or another, including investing in public transportation to limit the number of cars on the road (and prevent car accidents), seeking renewable energy alternatives to reduce emissions, and implementing clean-water facilities to prevent environmental problems and thus lessen the impacts of climate change on the public.

The final issue was that of urban-rural connections. The survey revealed that many citizens are hoping to see improvements in rural areas. Bettering infrastructure for those who reside in rural areas allows rural populations achieve more economic success, and enhance the living conditions for those not residing in major metropolitan areas.  This includes communications infrastructure reform as well as transportation reform.

Local Impact

In addition to a report, the researchers also released an interactive map of all of the infrastructure issues outlined by those surveyed. The map notes 58 projects for the major Houston area and surrounding area cities (such as Baytown, Pasadena, Freeport, Sealy, and Willis). These projects include storm drainage projects, fire safety improvements, and waste management projects, to name a few. They have also outlined several projects involving the ports, in hopes of making offshore sites safer for workers and nearby residents, and transportation adjustments to make the roads a safer place to drive.

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