Mending Our Built Environment

Seemingly every week, we hear of new reports that tell us the roads, bridges, airports and rail lines we travel on, and the buildings we live and work in, are in a critical state of disrepair. Without question, our crumbling infrastructure needs work, for the sake of our long-term economic growth as well as our basic health and safety.

The good news is that we’re currently facing a truly unique opportunity: we can fix our infrastructure, create a more productive economy, and put people to work in good jobs, all at once. By adopting “fix it first” policies and relying on cost-benefit analyses that put job creation front and center, elected leaders can – and should – allocate existing funds to projects like mass transit, school maintenance and building retrofits.

These types of projects are labor-intensive initiatives that result in good jobs with good pay, many of which stay in the local economy for the long-term and offer concrete career pathways for workers, all while curbing climate change and building a more sustainable and productive economy.

  • Focus on Transit: Our transit systems are in a state of disrepair: an estimated one-third of our nation’s public transit systems are in marginal or poor condition, yet many are deferring maintenance and, even worse, making cuts and laying off workers. States and cities should instead use existing funds in smarter ways, and prioritize projects such as light rail, as the city of Denver has done, or bus rapid transit, as Las Vegas has done.

  • Fix the Schools: Poor air quality, a lack of safe drinking water, exposure to contaminants such as lead and asbestos, and outdated facilities and technology contribute to health and learning problems of future generations. In order to promote better learning and put people back to work, districts should prioritize measures that will make schools more energy efficient and prioritize upgrades that will create much-needed construction jobs.

  • Retrofit Buildings: Building retrofits are a triple-win: they increase energy efficiency, create good jobs for a large swath of the workforce struggling to find work, and require less ramp-up time than other infrastructure projects. Cities such as Portland, Oregon have created high-road models for residential retrofits that are now being taken up state-wide; another 23 cities and counties have authorized Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to make energy and water improvements to commercial buildings.

Please see Filling the Good Jobs Deficit: An Economic Recovery Agenda for Our States and Cities, and sign up to receive monthly newsletters, for more information.