American Jobs Plan Series
The story has been that we don’t spend enough on infrastructure. But what’s the whole truth?
The Plan pretends to dig us out of the infrastructure hole we've dug ourselves into. In reality, it's making the hole bigger.
The top-down approach puts systems ahead of people and politics ahead of place—which is not what we need if we want to actually fix our infrastructure.
Do no harm: put your people and their needs at the heart of your approach. Here’s how.
[Note: This series was also compiled into a free e-book.]
The Republican Roadmap isn't a real alternative to the American Jobs Plan, and even if it was, we must stop talking about our national infrastructure strategy in terms of “Democratic versus Republican” approaches.
My Journey from Free Market Ideologue to Strong Towns Advocate
From Chuck Marohn: "I’ve had to reconcile my foundational belief in markets with my experiences working with cities. This has been a painful process."
From Chuck Marohn: "Early in my career, I helped plan a highway bypass for a small town that I was sure would generate a positive return on investment in the form of economic growth. The only problem? The actual numbers we calculated told a different story."
In very simple terms, infrastructure is a platform for expanding wealth. If infrastructure doesn’t expand our wealth enough to justify its construction, it’s not an investment. It’s merely a form of consumptive spending.
In a suburban development pattern, the cul-de-sac is the gravy. It’s the cherry on top. It should be the most profitable part of the system, the place with the most tax base for the least amount of cost. If that’s not true, then something is terribly wrong with our model of growth.
If local governments are going to lose money on residential development, then they have to make it up on commercial development. That’s a risky business model, one that doesn’t pencil out.
A real market urbanism looks like an organic system, where as many distortions as possible are removed and we’re left with irrational, fallible humans transacting with each other as freely as possible. There is good reason to correlate that with the traditional development pattern.
There is no such thing as a truly free market; the market exists within a system of rules and incentives. And in America today, that system privileges stability and efficiency at the federal level, at the expense of making our cities and towns fragile.
If you want to be a Strong Town, your community must redirect its energy to things that will make it financially better off and more prosperous.
If your community has a huge backlog of unfunded infrastructure maintenance—and it’s the rare one that doesn’t—there are some basic and obvious steps that need to be taken.
Why does infrastructure cost so much to build in the U.S.? The fundamental reasons aren’t technical. We’ve structured our postwar economy to use overspending on infrastructure as a way to induce short-term growth.
Current accounting practices do not bear any relation to the future cash flow or the actual financial health of the city. When cities take on obligations, they should be properly accounted for as liabilities, not assets.
When it comes to infrastructure spending, politicians on both ends of the political spectrum get it wrong—but in different ways.
Federal infrastructure spending is a huge, expensive gamble that we already know doesn’t pay off. The Strong Towns proposal for a path forward is cheap, and it offers high upside potential with low downside potential.
Stop obsessing over building new infrastructure and start putting your best minds in charge of maintenance.
Small maintenance projects focusing on below ground infrastructure in old, established neighborhoods have the greatest potential for positive returns.
We can make low-risk, high-returning investments in our cities while improving the quality of life for people, particularly those who are not benefiting from the current approach.
Problems have solutions. Predicaments have outcomes. We're in a predicament.
Improving a city doesn't take a lot of money. It just takes courage.
It is very likely that, within the next 12 to 24 months, your community is going to get some money for infrastructure. What are you going to do with it?
The unproductive use of infrastructure has put most cities, even those that are superficially prosperous, in a position where they won’t be able to afford to maintain what they’ve built. The signs of this crisis are everywhere—if you’re willing to look.
Local governments can’t take on more and more promises without generating enough wealth to meet those obligations—not without a reckoning. We need a radical revolution in how we plan, manage, and inhabit our cities, counties, and neighborhoods. We need a Strong Towns approach.