Dec. 6th, 2016

forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
There is quite a bit of talk going around about a potential new federal infrastructure bill. I want to talk about what infrastructure actually is, and how federal infrastructure spending shapes the US landscape. Infrastructure is complex and we need to not to treat it all as one thing and also to understand the secondary effect of building certain types of infrastructure.

Infrastructure includes lots of things some of these are have positive impacts on society and others negative. For example oil pipelines, high speed rail, highways, and solar energy plants are all infrastructure, but investing in each one of these would clearly have different impacts on society and the built environment. Politicians and the media have a tenancy to lump all of these things together and treat them like one thing, but this is really not helpful and can obfuscate the effects of government actions.

And government actions in infrastructure really do matter. Infrastructure funding is a major way the federal government plans the US built environment. The federal government leaves a lot lower levels to government – they don’t tell cities how to zone for example, or make it illegal to build on flood plains. But they do invest in big projects that make things possible. The Central Valley Project brings water from northern California to Southern California and means that more people can live there and there can be more irrigated agriculture in the south. The interstate highway system made it easier for people to drive and contributed to urban sprawl (it didn’t help that they knocked down a bunch of intercity neighborhoods to build freeways). As these examples show the federal government doesn’t have to do central planning to have a huge impact on the landscape.

So if you are thinking about contacting your reps please tell them you want to invest in mass transit and clean energy not new highways and pipelines. Tell them about the already existing infrastructure that you use and could use more money. Ask them not treat infrastructure like it is all one thing that always good, but to think carefully about what the federal government builds and how it will shape our future. Because infrastructure might seem boring but it shapes the world we live in.

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forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
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