The excerpt here is intended as a tease only. You’ll want to read Marohn’s statement at the point of origin, because the links included provide a wealth of information as well as opportunities for further study.
This letter needs to be read by all public officials in New Albany and Floyd County, and they also should consider visiting Strong Towns on a regular basis. Something solid is on display there every day.
A Letter to POTUS on Infrastructure, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)… What do we do today? To paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, we’re going to make investments in infrastructure with the systems we have, not the ones we wish we had. There are ways to get better results now.
- We need to prioritize maintenance over new capacity. With so many non-performing assets, it’s irresponsible to build additional capacity. Project proposers will try to add additional capacity with their maintenance projects. If it is truly warranted, it can and should be funded locally. Cities need to discover ways to turn such investments into positive ROI projects, a process the federal government can only impede.
- We must prioritize small projects over large. Small projects not only spread the wealth, they have much greater potential for positive returns with far lower risk. Large projects exceed their budgets more often and with greater severity — dollars and percentage — than smaller projects. A thousand projects of a million dollars or less have far more financial upside than a single billion-dollar project ever will. It’s administratively easier to do fewer, big projects, but that is a bureaucratic temptation we need to overcome.
- We should spend far more below ground than above. Many of our sewer and water systems are approaching 100 years old. When these core pipes fail, the problems cascade throughout the system. Technology may soon dramatically change how we use our roads and streets making investments in expansion there obsolete, but water and sewer will still flow through pipes as it has for thousands of years. We should spend at least $5 below ground for every $1 we spend above.
- We should prioritize neighborhoods more than 75 years old. We’ve modeled hundreds of cities across the country and in every one the neighborhoods with the highest investment potential are the ones that existed before World War II. These are established places where small investments have a huge impact. Most investments in neighborhoods built after World War II are simply bailouts, pouring good money after bad.