Use the jobs plan as a catalyst for the kind of infrastructure we want



President Joe Biden’s announcement of a $ 2 trillion plan to rebuild infrastructure and reshape our economy was followed by comments by opponents that any “infrastructure” plan should only cover traditional infrastructure such as as transport, broadband internet and other basics. Defining infrastructure is a losing battle on both sides. Instead, we should ask America, “How can we use this unique opportunity to make America a place we want to live?”

The US Jobs Plan is an opportunity to recover from a pandemic that has exasperated inequalities in our country and to recover from an election that continues to brutally divide our nation. We can use stimulus investment to go much further than short-term job creation and economic relief. We can and must create a paradigm shift for future infrastructure investments by encouraging co-benefits that extend to many populations, needs and timescales and have long-term economic returns.

Infrastructures designed to reduce flooding with the co-benefit of improving green spaces or restoring ecology will also reduce our carbon footprint, provide better health outcomes, lengthen human life and, ultimately. account, will reduce emergency room visits, reducing costs for Medicaid and Medicare that are funded by our tax dollars. Infrastructure that provides public space can create learning opportunities and build social capital, which is an important determinant of whether communities will fare better in times of crisis, thereby reducing the number of deaths during crisis. serious events. Open spaces and well-designed neighborhood institutions, essential “social infrastructure”, can also increase property values, reduce crime and build a society that is less dependent on government services and more dependent on neighbors. In addition, an infrastructure that takes into account climate projections throughout the duration of the project will allow our grandchildren not to have to rebuild what our generation has already invested in. These projects would also gain greater support from stakeholders, thus ensuring their construction faster and cheaper.

Here is how we do it. First, we mandate the use of a benefit-cost analysis that quantifies future climate needs and weighs the co-benefits for public health, ecology and social infrastructure more heavily in all spending. By enshrining these parameters in legislation or in funding requirements, Congress can effect changes in the way we design and rebuild our country. Whenever possible, every dollar we spend should deliver multiple benefits.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and immunization schedule, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, DC on May 13, 2021.
NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Currently, federal agencies do not use a uniform cost-benefit analysis, and those that often exclude social and environmental benefits from their calculations. If linked to the employment plan, the initiative would become a model for driving long-term changes across federal infrastructure agencies to better weigh investment opportunities against one another, and the resulting projects will be in line with President Biden’s broader agenda for addressing the environment. injustice and climate change through investments in clean energy, the modernization of transport networks and public schools, the construction of affordable housing and the reconnection of neighborhoods historically cut off by investments in infrastructure.

Second, instead of requiring so-called out-of-the-box projects, encourage thoughtful processes that build for the future. Most local governments do not make the large investments needed in engineering studies and environmental reviews for large-scale projects until construction funds are available. This means that most out of the box projects take blueprints off the shelves and implement the project exactly the same way we did before – applying bandages to chronic disease. A shovel-ready street project would rebuild or repav an existing road, as it was, without determining whether there are opportunities to create co-benefits, such as drainage improvements or tree planting. to reduce the urban heat island. This same street may be located in a floodplain and should in fact be raised or moved inland for long term protection, or the money better used in an area of ​​greater need, but it doesn There are no ready-made plans for the most worthy location. .

By placing aspirations at the highest level of Plan requirements, we can drive better projects early on, while saving federal, local and community money for generations to come.

Amy Chester is the Managing Director of Rebuild by Design, a non-profit organization housed at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, which brings together international experts to work with local government and community members to create infrastructure for large scale to fight against climate change.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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