Monday, October 10, 2016

Should we build new and shiny when we can't maintain what we already have?

An exchange with Chuck Marohn during the questions and answers following Chuck's presentation to the people of Salem on October 5th.

Chuck's entire talk is available online here
Tom Andersen (Ward 2 Salem City Council): [90:03] I wonder if you can comment a little more about the wisdom or folly of spending money on building new infrastructure and roads and bridges, but we cannot maintain roads and bridges and infrastructure that we have right now.
[90:18] [applause]
Chuck Marohn: [90:27] Only an insane people would think that it's smart to build more when you can't fix what you have. The Department of Transportation head for Tennessee when he was named went to the legislature in Tennessee. Schroer is his last name, I can't remember his first name, brilliant guy.
[90:47] He went to the legislature and said, "Look, we have a house with a leaking roof, you want me to put on an addition, I'm not going to build any addition until we fix the roof, period." Is that common sense or what?
[91:01] Here is the way cities operate, imagine and think about that map of Lafayette, we had the green areas and the red areas. A city today is like a company that has five divisions and the one division is profitable and the four divisions are losing money, and our solution to that problem is to build a fifth division that looks like the four that are losing money.
[91:25] That makes no sense at all. To me, I think the solution is to make sure that the first division never fails. Your good neighborhoods should never suffer from lack of maintenance. Your downtown should always have sidewalks that are fixed, should always have streets that are properly maintained, should always have lights that are on, should always be taken care of because it's producing huge amounts of wealth for you.
[91:52] Then in the neighborhood surrounding that maybe are cash flow positive, maybe are not but are on the borderline, those places should be getting the excess, the wealth being generated [in the downtown], they should be getting the love and brought back up, because that's the division that can actually be made profitable with a little bit of tenderness.
[92:12] The other ones are the places where you're going to have some difficult triage questions, but you are fools -- we are fools, I will put myself in this American pool of people -- We are fools if we build more. Do you want to know how big a fools we are?
Audience: [92:29] Yes.
[92:29] [laughter]
Chuck Marohn: [92:32] Detroit, which is undergoing massive contraction. They are letting go of whole neighborhoods. They're letting go of pipes. They are digging up roads but building more stuff too. It is so ingrained in who we are and what we become. It so ingrained in our processes and the way we envision ourselves.
[92:56] Think of like the Romans with the Gauls coming in saying, "We can still have that circus," and it took a while for them to come to grips with the world have changed. We can be smarter than that.
[93:12] I don't want to rail on your bridge project. I'm not here to fight about a bridge, but to me, the idea of building even a frontage road to a potential bridge is a bizarre concept when you have so much stuff that you cannot afford to maintain today.
[93:29] You're actually going to have to make really, really difficult painful triage decisions in the future about the stuff that you've already built, why would you make that problem way, way, way worse?
[93:40] [applause]