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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure 1 INTRODUCTION In 1988, the National Research Council (NRC) and other elements of the academy complex,1 concerned by the slow progress of national debate on infrastructure, undertook a strategic program designed to foster a more effective national focus and to produce new policies and programs for infrastructure improvement. The Building Research Board (BRB) has taken responsibility for this program, and in 1991 it established the Committee on Infrastructure, whose work is reported here.2 For more than a decade, the status and future of the nation's infrastructure have been matters of concern and discussion. Once a subject of interest primarily to professionals and politicians, the term has emerged from obscurity to become almost a household word. As a source for new jobs in a slow-growth economy, a means for better protection of the environment, or an essential ingredient in restoring America's global competitive strength, 1 The NRC; its constituent commissions, boards, and committees; and its parent bodies—the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine—are often referred to as "the academy complex." 2 Appendix A presents biographical sketches of the committee's members and staff. Appendix B gives a brief history of the BRB program.
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure rebuilding America's fragile foundations has become a recurring metaphor for investment and reinvestment in transportation systems, water supply networks, telecommunications, and waste treatment facilities that is increasingly seen as a major part of the solution to pressing national problems. While infrastructure has become a symbol of hope for some, the sudden onset of infrastructure collapse and destruction have also drawn public attention. A tunnel in Chicago, a main water line and major electrical transformer and cable in the nation's capital, steam lines in New York, the aftermath of Florida's hurricane or California's earthquake—all are reminders of how fragile the system may be and how dependent we are on the services of infrastructure. The public's investment in U.S. infrastructure is enormous. Many people say that these assets are "in ruins." However, many policy makers and members of the public express understandable skepticism when presented with such dire assessments. They observe that failures are isolated, primarily in a few older cities, and many elements of the nation's infrastructure seemingly continue to work quite well. Some communities face fiscal stringency and voter rebellion, but in other locales the voters approve bonds and other means to pay for refurbishing aging facilities or building new ones. Nevertheless, even those who question the extreme views of the status of U.S. infrastructure have come to recognize that problems do exist. Facilities are aging and deteriorating. Population has shifted within and among urban areas, causing the demands for infrastructure to shift as well. Technological and institutional complexity inhibits both planning and action. Innovation, proceeding at such a rapid pace in many fields, seems to some observers to come slowly to infrastructure (e.g., NCPWI, 1988). The committee spent more than a year seeking to gain better understanding of such problems and to determine how solutions might be found. During the spring and summer of 1992, the committee held workshop colloquia in three communities—Phoenix, Arizona; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Boston, Massachusetts—to observe the seemingly notable successes these communities have
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure had in uniting and mobilizing to come to grips with their infrastructure problems. The local experience of these communities offers lessons for others and for the nation as a whole. WHAT THE REPORT CONTAINS This report presents what the committee found and its recommendations for what should be done—by policy makers, infrastructure professionals, and the public at large—to improve the nation's infrastructure. These lessons call for change in the ways we think about and manage our infrastructure. Chapter 2 describes the background and basic principles that were the starting point for the committee's deliberations. This starting point is represented, for the most part, by a broad perspective and what many analysts term a ''top-down'' approach to thinking about infrastructure. However, in contrast to the more typical pattern of dealing separately with water supply, waste management, highways, and other distinct elements of infrastructure, this report and the study as a whole consider infrastructure as an institutionally complex, multifunctional system serving a broad range of economic and social activities. This whole-system point of view is most easily comprehended in cities, and this study focuses on urban infrastructure. Chapter 3 presents the core of this work, the committee's search, in the local experience of three communities, for effective principles and strategies for improving infrastructure. Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Boston, selected from a longer list of candidates, provided the committee with a "bottom-up" view of national infrastructure issues. The committee's specific observations and assessments of this experience are the principal basis for its subsequent recommendations. These recommendations are presented in Chapter 4. The committee undertook to identify the common elements of local successes and to extract lessons that could give practitioners, policy makers, and the public at large better understanding and guidance in dealing with infrastructure. The result is three key
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure principles likely to lead to win-win solutions to local infrastructure problems. The term "win-win," popularized from mathematical game theory, conveys the committee's conclusion that it is possible to resolve the major conflicts in infrastructure development and management in ways such that all parties can gain. Establishing conditions conducive to resolving these conflicts in communities throughout the nation is the basis for national policy as well as local infrastructure development and management. This report and the committee's recommendations are limited by the cases that were investigated, and several important infrastructure issues have not been addressed. For example, some communities faced with the costs of providing infrastructure to support rapid growth have chosen to search for ways to control that growth, to limit the demand for infrastructure, or to impose fees to mitigate the fiscal impact of new public works construction. Other communities, faced with declining economic activity and populations, are choosing to retire infrastructure facilities that they can no longer afford to maintain. Storms, earthquakes, and other catastrophes have damaged or destroyed important system elements, forcing what remains to serve in unplanned ways. Such cases would be excellent subjects for future studies. In addition, evidence suggests that the ways in which local governments are organized and empowered makes a difference in how effectively infrastructure problems are identified and solved. While historians and planners have studied such matters (e.g., Anderson, 1977; Platt, 1983), they were only touched on in this committee's work. THINKING BROADLY, OBSERVING LOCALLY The three principles discussed in Chapter 4 reflect the committee's firm belief that national policy must respond more effectively to the variety of local conditions, and that construction alone is unlikely to yield real and lasting relief from serious infrastructure problems. This belief was asserted early in the committee's study, as a key element of its approach to issues of infrastructure: the
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure problems of infrastructure are essentially local but nevertheless have national policy significance. As already noted, this focus on local levels, but cutting across all modes (e.g., highways, water supply, waste treatment) of infrastructure, marks an important departure from most earlier policy studies, which have dealt primarily with one or two related modes viewed on a national level. The committee sought instead to bridge the gap between local concerns and those of national policy that influence local action and national well-being. This gap is illustrated by the growing vocabulary of terms describing public response to infrastructure development proposals. First NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard!) became a widely popular acronym and then the name for the syndrome of resistance. More recently appearing terms include NOTE (Not over There Either!) and NIMTOO (Not in My Term of Office!) In the extreme, the stance of some citizens' groups extends to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere, Anytime!) Such attitudes must be changed, along with the policies that spawned them. The committee felt that its greatest contributions would be in identifying transferable lessons from local experience, lessons that could be applied in other regions, and in extracting from these lessons the principles of national policy that will support the transfer. With that premise, and set against the backdrop of the continuing broad national discussions of infrastructure, the committee decided to hold its series of three regional colloquia. REFERENCES Anderson, Alan D. 1977. The Origin and Resolution of an Urban Crisis: Baltimore, 1890–1930. Baltimore, M.D.: The Johns Hopkins University Press. NCPWI (National Council on Public Works Improvement). 1988. Fragile Foundations: A Report on America's Public Works. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Platt, Harold L. 1983. City Building in the New South: The Growth of Public Services in Houston, Texas, 1830–1910. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure Figure 1-A Many elements of the infrastructure interact underground, hidden from view. Here water supply pipelines surface and are supported by a bridge across a concrete-lined stormwater drainage channel that replaced a creek.
Representative terms from entire chapter: