Infrastructure & Good Neighbors

“Infrastructure,” says Goldhagen, summing it all up, “is where architecture and politics merge.”

So architectural historian Sarah Goldhagen wraps up a recent and provocative interview with the Boston Globe that is essential reading if you care about infrastructure. And, we know you do.

Goldhagen says to think of it as a detective story. A bridge collapses in Minnesota. A steam pipe explodes in New York. Water in some cities is found to contain lead…Schools have boarded-up windows but don’t have books…It’s like an Agatha Christie mystery.

But this is much scarier than anything Christie wrote. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our nation’s infrastructure is barely making the grade, and is mediocre at best.

What, exactly, is infrastructure? For Goldhagen, it’s everything we build that is meant to serve the public: highways, streets, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, transit systems, utilities of all kinds, parks, soccer fields, even public schools and colleges.

She says we need to think of it all as one integrated whole, and then ask who’s taking care of it. No one, it turns out.

That last sentence is why the Route 1 Growth working group came together. Infrastructure is not sexy, it costs a lot and is, if things are working well, invisible. But it is critical to our quality of life.

We are way behind the curve, probably about ten years and that may be a conservative estimate–and that’s before the 7,600 new residential units. Let’s look at schools. The need is identified, put into the funding cycle (or not), then a site needs to be identified and purchased, the plans prepared, and the project bid and constructed. Roads and transit are similar.

Goldhagen believes that our lives no longer mesh with our method of governance. We live in a metropolitan area and our lives sprawl–in a good way–across several towns daily. Yet we have a crazy quilt of small towns and cities attempting to contend with expensive structural issues that developed over many years. (As mentioned before, 13 of the county’s 27 municipalities are in the Route 1 corridor.)

Although Goldhagen and the recent Copenhagen Agenda for Sustainable Cities are approaching different problems, they reach the same conclusion: change does not respect artificial boundaries. We need to work together regionally.

Perhaps that’s possible. The turnout for last week’s Route 1 Development Forum was encouraging. If last Thursday was a layered overview of the Route 1 area’s growth, the Stacy Mitchell event next week should be the fun part–how municipalities can use retail to revitalize. Both events involve our elected officials working cooperatively, like good neighbors do.

Thanks to Rebuilding Place… for the citation.

1 Comment

Filed under Cities and Towns, Elected Offcials, Infrastructure, Public Transit, Retail, Roads

One response to “Infrastructure & Good Neighbors

  1. Ben Jamison

    Municipalities in pg county (and all of MD except Baltimore) are a hollow formation. From almost every perspective, municipalities and their elected leadership are glorified community associations that dole out parking tickets and arrange garbage pickup. Counties do almost everything and PG county does a particularly poor job of it. We already have comprehensive planning and zoning in some respects.

    What is your proposal for the school issue? I hear a lot of complaining and not a lot of solutions.

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