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4 Politics and Urban Public Facilities Heywood T. Sanders FACILITIES AND POLITICAL POWER: A GLANCE AT MUNICIPAL HISTORY The development and maintenance of the urban infrastructure is largely a public function, carried out by public agencies and a variety of elected and appointed officials. The decisions and choices of these bodies necessarily reflect political interests and bargains. These choices also demonstrate a single fact urban public facili- ties such as streets and sewers are rarely valuable in and of them- seIves. The real value of infrastructure comes in the things that it makes possible. A mayor may support the construction of a new sewer line because it is needed to serve a new plant, thereby ful- fi~ling a political obligation to create new jobs and foster economic development. A city council member may campaign for street im- provements in one district in order to even out the distribution of benefits across the city and to demonstrate attentiveness to the interest of his or her constituents. The demands of the local electoral system-to meet campaign promises, to demonstrate substantive accomplishment, to secure some symbols of action and represen- tation structure the public investment in infrastructure and its location. The link between political gain and the development of an urban infrastructure has been a continuing feature of American 143
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144 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE history. Our cities have largely been shaped by the needs and de- sires of local officials. Boss Tweed's Pavement Politics The name of William Marcy "Boss" Tweed has become enshrined in the history books as an example of all that was wrong with American local government in the nineteenth century. Tweed stole vast sums of money from New York City's taxpayers, enriching both himself and his colleagues while running the city into massive debt. The most cited example of Tweed's capacity for graft is the construction of the New York County Courthouse. Originally planned to cost some $700,000, its final cost was in excess of $12 million. Its furnishings included $675,000 for carpets and shades and $7,500 worth of thermometers (Werner, 19281. Tweed's eminent success at plundering the city's treasury does not, however, commend him to our attention. Far more important for the development of Manhattan was his ability at promoting infrastructure construction and expansion beyond the densely set- tIed limits of lower Manhattan. Tweed engineered the legislation for and then directed a massive program of street paving in New York. Armed with legislation passed in 1869 that shifted half the cost of street improvements from abutting property owners to the city as a whole, he increased special assessment debt from $4.4 million to $12.6 million in just 2 years. This debt increase was matched by another $5.6 million in general bond issues for street improvements and $2.5 million for water supply in the same period. Boss Tweed had created a political machine for building and ex- panding urban infrastructure (Durand, 18981. Construction projects had obvious merits to a politician intent on both personal gain and the distribution of favors. Contracts were awarded to favored contractors with little or no supervision but large kickbacks. Materials had to be purchased and laborers em- ployed, and these functions provided the opportunity to reward po- litical supporters and gain votes. The most important fact, which Tweed recognized, was that infrastructure development, particu- larly street paving, provided a means of sharply increasing land values and real estate development in particular parts of the city. No doubt some of the rationale for this expansion was pecuniary. Tweed's friends and supporters speculated in property on the upper East Side that was directly aided by the improvement program.
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 145 There was, however, a much larger scheme of benefits. The massive infrastructure program promised jobs to be distributed to newly arrived immigrants at the same time that it weakened the holdings of Tweed's enemies in the downtown area and the West Sicle. These political gains jobs, contracts, real estate speculation as well as graft could be managed within a modest current tax rate by pass- ing the cost on to future taxpayers in the form of bonded debt. The street improvement empire created by Tweed collapsed as rapidly as it had grown, a casualty of both the magnitude of its greed and the reaction of the bond markets. It illustrates the sizable political gain to be had from the expansion of basic urban systems. Building streets and widening boulevards need not be a process controlled by property owners at their convenience or superintended by local government on some rational basis. These activities provide a way to garner support and win elections, to build a political or- ganization and guarantee campaign contributions. For Tweed the money was in the building of a courthouse and such things as printing contracts. The political and electoral power was in street paving, a lesson that may not be fully appreciated by contemporary urban politicians and professional managers. Cleveland: A Bridge to Electoral Victory A crisis over bridge conditions is nothing new to Cleveland. Just as the city now faces an enormous bill for repairing and recon- structing its bridge network, so it faced a similar problem in the early years of this century. The earlier crisis was one of development and growth in an era of streetcars rather than automobiles, and the dual problems of capacity and safety made a case for a new structure. In 1900 two bridges linked Cleveland's west side residential neighborhoods with the downtown center by crossing the natural barrier of the Cuyahoga River valley. Both structures, the Superior and Central viaducts, were low-level bridges forced to open and close for river traffic and thus were the cause of regular delays for streetcar traffic. The viaducts were also overburdened by traffic, "greatly taxed to afford the proper communication between the East and West side . . . particularly noticeable at the morning and eve- ning rush hours" (Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 2, 19101. These structures, particularly the Superior Viaduct, were the limiting factors to further development and growth to the west. The Superior
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146 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE span also had some structural problems- flaws in the masonry piers supporting the actual roadway. The need for a new high-level span with more capacity and no interruptions by river traffic was clear to a succession of Cleveland's mayors and councils and was pressed by west side business and commercial interests. The fund- ing for a new bridge was dependent, however, on voter approval of new bonds, and the voters proved rather less impressed by the "need." Requirements imposed by state law for a minimum two- thirds majority approval at the polls also hampered the translation of need into action. The city's first popular vote on the bridge bond issue was held in 1905 and was successful. It was nonetheless declared invalid due to a technicality in advertising the referendum. A second attempt in 1906 failed, followed by two further failures at the polls in 1908 and 1909. Local politicians read the mood of the voters as being antitax and antidebt. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer commented in a 1910 editorial (May 11, 19101: "It is clear that a two-thirds af- firmative vote for city bridge bonds could not be secured either now or in any circumstances likely to soon develop....The important consideration is that the bridge be built right and soon." The popular failure of the bridge issue was clearly rooted in some perception of voter self-interest. Contemporary political leaders noted the unwillingness of the taxpayers to support any further debt for public improvements, be they viaducts or a new city hall. This reluctance was particularly notable in the case of east side voters, who stood to bear the costs of the new structure while receiving no apparent benefit. Bridge development was clearly stalemated by the mood of the voters, and the situation demanded some political leadership or initiative. That leadership eventually came from a single elected official, with a constituency that was larger than just the city and who needed to create a new political image. W. F. Eirick, a Repub- lican, was first elected to the Cuyahoga County Commission in 1903 but lost his seat in a Democratic sweep in 1906. Two years later he ran again, this time campaigning on a platform backing county construction of a new west side bridge. The county lacked the formal authority to build such a structure within the city, but Eirick argued that the legal restrictions could be overturned and the viaduct built by the county government. Eirick's success in winning back his commission seat in 1908 led to the filing of a test suit on the bridge
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 147 construction. Both Eirick and Cleveland's elected officials recog- nized that a quirk in the state law required only a simple majority for bond approval in contrast to the two-thirds minimum for a city issue. With judicial acquiescence in 1910, the county commission moved quickly to place the bridge issue before the voters once again. The county proposal managed a substantial popular majority in November 1910, with voters outside the city of Cleveland combining with loyal Republican voters in the city in support. Design and construction for the new Superior Viaduct commenced quickly, and the new structure was opened to streetcar traffic in late 1917. The impact of the high-level span was substantial. By doubling the number of streetcar tracks and eliminating delays, it increased the accessibility of the west side and spurred new development there. In the suburb of Lakewood immediately adjacent to Cleve- land, one history notes (Rose, 1950:10811: A second real-estate boom came with the opening of the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge over the Cuyahoga River in 1917, and prices of lakefront property soared as high as $15,000 an acre. Eirick's personal support of the bridge development created an en- tirely new provider of public facilities for Cleveland-the county government. It also provided substantial political rewards for Ei- rick. The bridge issue served to differentiate Eirick from the mass of Republican county candidates and to provide an unusual level of public visibility. The result was that the candidate who was defeated in 1906 went on to lead the Republican ticket in 1908 and 1910, outpolling the well-known state and national candidates. His endorsement of the county initiative in building the viaduct also brought Eirick the support and endorsement of the influential Mu- nicipal Association in the 1910 election. In a political environment in which party loyalty superseded both issues and personalities in importance, W. F. Eirick was able to use an infrastructure need both to gain new electoral support and to create a positive image with the voters of Cleveland and Cuy- ahoga County. Public Works as Political Strategy Tweed in New York City and Eirick in Cleveland demonstrate the extent to which the development of urban public facilities has
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148 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE been dependent on political decisions made for political purposes. Tweed's success in plundering the city treasury should not divert us from an appreciation of his use of street paving. Contracts for the county courthouse and a variety of city purchases sufficed to make Tweed a wealthy man and to enrich his colleagues. The street paving program was a much less substantial source of corruption. Its principal advantage lay in the employment, through private contractors, of hundreds of laborers drawn from the city's immi- grant population. Corruption and personal gain were necessary ele- ments in forming political alliances in a notoriously disorganized environment, but the jobs from the paving program were a means of gaining and controlling voter loyalties. The need to get elected and reelected spurred Tweed's infrastructure program. Eirick's efforts to promote the building of a new Superior Viaduct suggest nothing of the outright corruption of the Tweed endeavors, yet they were motivated by the same forces. The bridge issue dif- ferentiated Eirick from a mass of Republican politicians and brought him a much wider base of electoral support and the reelection he sought. Political need, in short, pressed both Tweed and Eirick to adopt public facility development as a strategy for electoral success. American cities today are manifestly better governed and far less corrupt than they were in Tweed's day. City managers are more commonly municipal leaders than party bosses; the national polit- ical parties are largely absent from local politics; and urban admin- istration has been placed on a more rational and efficient basis. The political potential of infrastructure development nonetheless persists. Bridges, streets, and water and sewer lines are built not only because they carry some unique intrinsic value to some city decision makers, but also because of the larger benefits and rewards they promise. The political value of infrastructure is not confined to elected officials and the contest for popular support. Public agen- cies and their managers also act in a political fashion, seeking to build outside support, enhance their professional image, and en- large their programs and budgets. infrastructure programs and projects thus serve political purposes even as they are allocated and evaluated by urban professionals- as a means of rewarding an important or supportive department head, sustaining city employ- ment and employee loyalty, and absorbing and alleviating fiscal pressures and budgetary crises.
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 149 TODAY'S INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS AND THE POLITICS OF URBAN DEVELOPMENT The Deferral of Capital Improvements Any number of recent analyses of urban public facilities have suggested the forthcoming collapse of streets and bridges, and the wearing out of the urban infrastructure. While the true extent of these problems is clearly open to question, their genesis in a number of specific communities is clear. Large portions of the current bill for infrastructure rebuilding have been around for a lengthy period of time. The infrastructure crisis is not simply one of recent vintage, reflecting-some underspending in the last 4 or 6 years; rather, the needs for physical improvement of many cities have been known and deferred over an extended period. In Cleveland, for example, a 1979 study noted a need for more than $150 million in repairs to the city's network, with a substantial number of structures requir- ing immediate replacement or major rehabilitation (Humphrey et al., 19791. While the total magnitude of this problem is impressive, it constitutes nothing new. A report by Cleveland's city engineer in 1968 requested the participation of state and county authorities to solve Cleveland's bridge problems as well as at least $20 million in city bond authority for the 1968-1978 period for replacement of the worst bridges. As that report noted, "There is virtually no end to bridge replacement needs and the City of Cleveland does not have the dollar resources to go it alone" (WolLs, 1968:11. The mag- nitude of the problem had only grown in the subsequent 3 years, for the 1971 bridge inspection report argued that "an amount of $55,000,000 in bonds or supporting state, county and Federal money is necessary immediately to keep the bridges in the City of Cleve- land satisfactory" (Stamps, 19711. The bridges that required rehabilitation or replacement in 1979 were much the same structures that had concerned Cleveland's engineers in 1968, 1971, and the intervening years. Their needs simply grew more serious and more costly with the passage of time. Cleveland faced a bridge crisis in 1979 and 1980 not because it was unable to identify a problem much earlier; it faced that problem because clear needs were deferred. The persistent character of infrastructure needs is also suggested by New York City's situation. The condition of the city's streets has
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150 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE been a standing joke for years. If the resurfacing cycle implied by the volume of activity in the late 1970s (following New York's fiscal crisis) amounted to 200 years, it was but a moderate change. Prior to the loss of capital funds resulting from the crisis, the resurfacing cycle had averaged 120 years. Even the 120-year cycle is probably an overestimate of the actual performance much of the city's effort was centered on the construction of new street pavement or the reconstruction of roads linked to major new developments. Other elements of New York's infrastructure needs also show the same sort of historical continuity. The city's 1983 capital budget allocates $120 million to the further construction of a third water supply tunnel, on which construction had begun in 1970. The need for the tunnel has been strongly argued recently: "We need to have this third water tunnel available so that we can fix one of the other two that are ~ think respectively something like 74 and 77 years old" (Koch, 1982:91. This same sort of need was the rationale for proposing the tunnel in 1960 and 1966. Indeed, the need for an additional water tunnel has existed ever since the completion of the second tunnel in 1936. This sort of delay, it might be noted, would appear to be New York City's historical norm. The second water tunnel was formally proposed in 1921, approved by the Boarc! of Estimate in 1927, but not completed until 1936. Its completion eventually required the financial aid of the federal government under the Public Works Administration. These examples of problem persistence do not canvass the entire array of public facility needs, but they do suggest that the current situation has not developed overnight. The problems of streets, bridges, and water and sewer systems have existed, been recog- nized, and been documented for an extended period. The issue has been a matter of translating this recognition into public action. Financing Public Works: The Political Environment Since 1960 The persistence of infrastructure needs over time in such com- munities as New York ant} Cleveland should also raise questions about the linkage between fiscal health and the condition of public facilities. The decay of these structures and systems cannot be at- tributed simply to a decline in urban capital spending following such crisis events as the collapse of capital spending in New York and Cleveland, the austerity faced by such older cities as Detroit and Boston, and the broad impact of Proposition 13 on California
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 151 communities. While these events did undermine the abilities of cities to meet capital improvement needs, many of these same needs had gone unmet in the preceding few years. The period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Cleveland documented its bridge re- placement needs, was a boom time for capital spending. Capital expenditures in Cleveland during the 1950s and 1960s had been kept to a minimum, reflecting both the reluctance of the electorate to endorse expensive bond proposals (more than half the proposals on the ballot from 1956 through 1966 were voted down) and the unwillingness of political leaders to increase taxes in a city of homeowners. Total capital spending, including items backed by revenue bond funding, was kept to $30.S million in 1964 and $30.4 million 2 years later. The expenditure growth at the beginning of the 1970s was equally modest. Spending came to $34.S million in 1970. The great increases followed shortly thereafter, with spending at $42.4 million in 1974, $131.1 million in 1976, and $97 million in 1977. A part of Cleveland's capital spending boom was due to self- f~nancing activities, such as the water system and airport expan- sion. But much of it was also due to the initiation of a number of development-oriented projects in the downtown area. The city con- structed a new central police station as part of a countywide courts complex, with a bill for Cleveland of $60 million. It also managed to fund the widening of a downtown street and the installation of a median strip at a cost of $1 million in 1977. Cleveland had the financial resources to address any number of its needs in the 1970s. Indeed, the bond fund for city bridge im- provements and rehabilitation showed a substantial unexpended balance for most of this period. When the first major report on bridge condition was submitted in 196S, there was almost $4 million in available funds. As late as 1974, city books included about $3 mil- lion in unexpended bridge monies that could have been committee} to replacement. Cleveland's capital investment increases were by no means unique. Boston's capital program grew from $31.5 million in 1969 to $109 million in 1976, the peak spending year for the decade. This capital spending funded a great many projects and supported a substantial volume of private investment and development, particularly in the central business district. What it die! not support, in general, was expansion of more traditional capital programs. As the aggregate capital program expanded, expenditures for street reconstruction
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152 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE remained unchanged $3.2 million in 1970 and $3.24 million in 1976 even as inflation increased the cost of street work. Stability in actual dollars or even decline was also the case in such areas as bridge rehabilitation and sewer improvement. The expansion of capital spending in Boston provided the opportunity for greater expenditures and greater response to infrastructure needs- but that response did not take place. New York City provides a final case of the capital investment environment since the 1960s. The city's capital program through the early 1960s had been a modest one, designed to respond to new growth on the outlying areas of Queens and Staten Island while completing the city's arterial highway and expressway network. John Lindsay's assumption of the mayor's office had marked a sharp change in both the size and character of the capital construction. New York's capital construction contract awards amounted to $204 million in 1966; by 1970 they reacher! a total of $723 million, then grew to $1.1 billion in 1973. Lincisay and his staff had the opportunity to substantially expand the city's capital program "people were begging for our bonds" (interview with David Grossman, 19821. That opportunity was ex- ercised in a number of functional areas. Spending for new school buildings increased sharply over the previous levels, reaching a peak of over $200 million in 1972. There were similar sharp in- creases in the general building program, including new fire stations and police precinct houses as well as for parks and recreation fa- cilities. In more traditional infrastructure areas, the rate of new spending grew more moclestly. Street and highway project contracts increased from $12 million in 1966 to $22 million in 1970, with a peak figure of $36 million in 1973. Even these figures can be mis- leading, for much of the new street investment supported new de- velopment, such as the Hunt's Point Market and the rehabilitation of Yankee Stadium. In 1969, for example, $4 million of the city's $21.5 million highway program was devoted to the construction of new streets in the Co-Op City housing complex in the Bronx. The funds were available to resurface New York City's streets at a regular and substantial pace, to replace water and sewer lines where necessary, ant} to meet other needs of growth. ~ New York City's largest single infrastructure project, the Third Water Tunnel, was partly justified by the need to accommodate the city's population growth. The tunnel was designed to serve an eventual population of 9.4 million by 2010. The city's 1980 population was slightly more than 7 million, a 10 percent drop from the 1970 figure.
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES Public Facilities ant! the Politics of Urban Growth 153 While some cities have struggled to finance and maintain basic public facilities, others have managed massive investments in ex- pansion and addition. Cities in the Sunbelt have made infrastruc- ture a central political priority because of its critical tie to urban growth and development. For example, Phoenix, Houston, Albu- querque, and San Jose have all managed major public spending for infrastructure over the last two decades. They have managed that task as part of the politics of growth, because growth was politically salable and vital in each of these communities. In some cases, local government simply became a vehicle for delivering the new streets, sewers, and water systems needed for new residential development and for representing the interests of bankers, realtors, and property owners. Capital spending in Phoenix increased from $20 million in 1967 to more than $70 million in 1978. These funds both supported new development and replaced the inadequate public facilities of earlier growth periods. The construction of growth-relatecI urban infrastructure over the last three decades has often involved a combination of local gov- ernment, state and federal government, and private financing. Fed- eral grant support for water and sewer systems and for interstate highways and urban streets has reduced the burden on local treas- uries. The demands of urban growth have nonetheless demancled a single-minded emphasis on infrastructure construction in local capital programs. The development of arterial streets and storm drainage projects for fringe areas dominated San Antonio's capital spending and bond programs during the 1960s and early 1970s. Albuquerque's bond programs, which require voter approval, also illustrate the political priority of infrastructure in some contexts. In 1966 Albuquerque's voters passed a $22 million package of cap- ital projects, 89 percent of which went to streets, drainage, and water and sewer systems. The city faced a series of competing de- mands for public facilities throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as cit- izens requested greater priority for parks, recreation facilities, ant! libraries. Yet by 1974 the city was still devoting 81 percent of its capital effort to infrastructure projects. This pattern of high public investment for basic infrastructure in growing communities, even where these investments require voter approval at the polls, has been repeater! in numerous Tocali- ties. San Jose managed to spend more than $3 million for street
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 167 in specific improvements in their wards and in resolving the prob- lems of their constituents. Cleveland's political approach to infrastructure renewal has not been an unalloyed success. As noted earlier, the city has faced a serious problem of bridge deterioration, and some of its larger public facilities, such as the water system, have been the victims of major underinvestment over the years. To some extent, these are the nat- ural failings of a system that concentrated on local improvements at the expense of broader concerns. The refrain that "bridges don't vote" has often been employed to explain the orientation of the political system. While this explanation does contain a kernel of truth, it is far from satisfactory. Cleveland has repaired and re- habilitated bridges over the last decade in a fashion similar to many other communities. While bridges don't vote, the people who use them and depend on them do. Where bridges serve a clear constituency, they have been fixed. Cleveland resembles other cities in responding to bridge needs (as well as other major public facilities) in a crisis. Where an immediate need became obvious for a bridge that served an im- portant need carrying traffic to the stadium or to the downtown core funds have been made available and the required repairs managed. It is fashionable to decry this sort of crisis response as bad management and poor planning, but it is a reasonable way to respond to expensive facility rehabilitation needs that cannot easily be forecast or justified to decision makers. The crisis response to bridge needs may well be a sensible form of natural selection, by which those structures that are relics of the nineteenth century, serving areas of the city that have been abandoned or depopulated over the years, are themselves abandoned and removed from the transportation system. Cleveland created a bridge network in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries designed to serve an industrial valley that was the city's economic heart. The jobs and industry that remain might well be better served by city expend- itures on items other than the replacement of structures that were relevant in 1890. CONCLUSION: DOES MANAGEMENT FAIL INFRASTRUCTURE? OR THE VALUE OF PORK The historical record of a number of American cities indicates that infrastructure replacement and rehabilitation may be poorly
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168 PERSPECTIVES ON URBANINFRASTRUCTURE served by city management. Needs ant! standards have persistently failed to generate necessary capital funds, except in circumstances in which the political value of specific projects (e.g., urban growth or a new industrial plant) have provided larger interest and benefit. Management values based on limited-cost government, low taxes, and efficient service delivery have regularly ensured the deferral of street resurfacing or bridge replacement in favor of impressive public and private projects. This result has been supported by any number of local public works officials who have pressed for new construction projects over needed rehabilitation. Local support for new public facilities is not simply rooted in the vagaries of the federal grant system. It is a reflection of professional concerns and organizational interests. Change is possible in political systems. Some communities have acted to renew their capital stock and emphasize rehabilitation policies. Yet it is likely that these new policies simply reflect the latest trend and more vocal public de- mands and thus represent only a temporary shift. The conditions of scarcity that have affected street resurfacing, storm drainage, and bridge replacement have regularly forced cities to choose among competing needs and competing locations. Simple criteria of efficiency under these conditions have resulted in clear biases in the outcome of decisions about facility improvement. The worst streets do not get resurfaced because they exceed a reasonable cost per square yard or because they are affected by a drainage problem that cannot be addressed. At the same time, streets that are seen as more visible or more important in the downtown area, for example are regularly repaved. The real national infrastruc- ture issue may not be the deterioration of all our public facilities, but the fact that we can accept unpaved streets and basement flood- ing in some areas while insisting on excellent pavement conditions in others. Politics offers an alternative approach to meeting infrastructure needs in a variety of neighborhoods. As long as elections can be won by resurfacing streets and votes can be gained from rebuilding sewers, infrastructure needs will be addressed. There exists a long political tradition of aggregating immediate local needs into a larger framework the pork barrel. Although it is commonly derided as a political evil, the pork barrel system implicitly recognizes the value of local improvements and the need to provide them in a number of places. Spread public projects around so that a majority of elected representatives will gain, and there will be ample support
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 169 for a public undertaking. The result may be some loss in govern- mental efficiency, some projects undertaken that are less necessary or valuable than others. That may well be a very small price to pay. REFERENCES Boston Redevelopment Authority 1963 Renewing Boston's Municipal Facilities. Boston: City of Boston. Cincinnati City Planning Commission 1949 1951-1955 Program of Capital Improvements. Cincinnati, Ohio: City of Cin . . connate. Cincinnati Highway Maintenance Division 1959 1959 Annual Report. Cincinnati, Ohio: City of Cincinnati. Cogger, Janice, and Krumholz, Norman 1975 The Capital Improvement Programming in Process in Cleveland: Myth and Reality. Paper presented at the conference of the American Society of Planning Officials, Vancouver, British Columbia. Durand, Edward D. 1898 The Finance of New York City. New York: Macmillan. Gorham, William 1979 Foreword. In Nancy Humphrey, George Peterson, and Peter Wilson, The Fu- ture of Cincinnati's Capital Plant. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute. Howitt, Arnold M. 1976 Strategies of Governing: Electoral Constraints on Mayoral Behavior in Phil- adelphia and Boston. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University. Humphrey, Nancy, Peterson, George, and Wilson, Peter 1979 The Future of Cleveland's Capital Plant. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute. Koch, Edward 1982 Rotten at the core? Barron's June 7:9. Rose, William G. 1950 Cleveland: The Making of a City. Cleveland, Ohio: World. Stamps, Joseph L. 1971 1971 Bridge Inspection Report. Cleveland, Ohio: Division of Engineering and Construction, City of Cleveland. Starbird, George 1972 The New Metropolis. San Jose: The Rosicrucian Press. Werner, M. R. 1928 Tammany Hall. New York: Doubleday. Wolfs, John R. 1968 Report on the Status of Bridges. Cleveland, Ohio: Division of Engineering and Construction, City of Cleveland. DISCUSSION Philip Dearborne The three earlier chapters set the stage well for this one by Hey- wood Sanders on the politics of decision making about public works.
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170 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE doe) Tarr makes it clear that we should not be panicking over the infrastructure issue. There is no emergency when the issue is seen in a historical perspective. A century ago, 10,000 people per month were moving into Chicago. The city not only had to install facilities to serve them, but it also had to invent the facilities. The second chapter, by O'Day and Neumann, suggests that much of the needs issue is a media event. Trillion-dolIar estimates of need simply are not realistic. Moreover, the thought of digging up New York to replace all of its aging water mains is not realistic. We will invent alternative systems before we tolerate that level of disrup- tion to urban life. Peterson destroys the myth that financing mechanisms have a major effect on infrastructure systems. This is well illustrated by the case of St. Louis, which is one major city on its way, as a matter of political choice, to having no bonded debt. In 1970 it had a debt of $111 million; in 1981 its debt had dropped to $40 million and is projected to reach only $7 million in the next S years. This is not due to major problems in the bond market. It is because the people of St. Louis have not wanted to vote for bond issues, so St. Louis chooses not to borrow. Los Angeles is another major city in which the constraints are political, rather than financial or legal. These constraints predate Proposition 13. Los Angeles has a legal debt limit of $2.3 billion but has a current outstanding debt of only $83 million. Thus, we come to the politics of decision making. There are some clear deficiencies and so many biases in the system that we should not pass over them lightly or refuse to try to deal with them. Clearly the political system will make choices, and those choices are not always good. The repair of a major bridge might be deferred, for instance, because the same amount of money will repair many miles of streets, making more people happy before an election. There is a tendency to approach major public works through the domed sta- dium or convention center syndrome, thinking about the publicity involved and the community support engendered by spectacular projects, ground Creakings, and dedications, rather than face the future costs of operating such facilities. These real problems are often masked by the fact that capital improvements and operations come from separate budgets. It is hard to resist the temptation of the large project if money is available to build it, as, for example, in the case of federally funded multipurpose centers, even though their purposes and how they were to be paid for were not known. The real question is how to perfect the system, to keep it within
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 171 some reasonable guidelines for the allocation of available funds. One approach is to use the system of bone} covenants more effec- tively. Another approach, which ~ always resisted as a municipal finance officer, is the use of earmarked funds for certain types of public works. A possible research topic is the economic effect of bringing in capital from the outside the city, which is essentially what a bone! issue does. It helps the local economy through the multiplier effect of public works expenditures. We need to know more about the utility of countercyclical financing of public works for cities, par- ticularly those that are in bad fiscal shape. It may be that it would be politically and economically wise to borrow as a stimulus for economic development. Scott Johnson No city manager could agree with the conclusions of the chapter by Sanders. My principal problems with it are: (1) It does not act- equately support its conclusion that whatever the political process produces is the best we can hope for insofar as allocation of resources to infrastructure needs is concerned. (2) It fails to address the real problem of politics in urban infrastructure. (3) Instead, it is content with a firm grasp of the obvious. The paper certainly illustrates the point that politics controls infrastructure what gets built, by whom, and how. ~ fully agree with that point. ~ do not agree, however, that politics in a micro sense e.g., which street or sewer to build or repair must be part and parcel of the political process or that a more rational assessment of needs ought to be secondary to the political process in making those decisions. Sanders seems to concur that those decisions should not be purely political. If not, however, then there must be some other basis for them, and the chapter provides us with no alternative statement of that basis. Allocation of resources is always a political problem. Looking at his examples (and more cities could easily be added), Sanders seems to find that the allocation problems are easier in the growing cities than in those that are declining. This would seem to lead to the conclusion that the way for a city to solve its allocation problems is to grow. This is akin to the suggestion of Will Rogers that the way to eliminate the U-Boats in World War ~ was to bring the Atlantic to a boil and skim them off the top. Asked how to accom- plish this, he said that he was the big idea man; it was up to others
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172 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE to worry about the details. This approach to problem solving is also illustrated by the bumper stickers ~ see in Oklahoma that read: "If you don't have an of] well, get one!" It is indeed easier for growing cities to take care of their public works problems. It is easier for politicians to extend the street, water, and sewerage systems into newly developing areas than it is to maintain an aging, deteriorating system in an older area. The problem is not so much one of dealing with differences between professional managers and public works administrators as it is one of how politicians deal with the public. So long as the maintenance problems are invisible, so long as water comes out of the tap and (lisappears down the hole in the sink, it is hard to convince people that their sanitary systems need major repairs or upgrading. The discussion of the differences between Cleveland and Cincin- nati is important. There is much discussion of the allocation of funds to street repair. Streets are relatively easy to get funds for. The real question is in comparison to what other facilities, how to al- Tocate among facilities, and as to streets, which streets. The serious political problem for any city is what to spend for streets and what to spend for the police department and other functions in both the capital and operating budgets. Yes, these are political decisions, and the political decisions are often wrong. Our task is to improve the political process to change the nature of those decisions and the way in which they are made. This requires public understanding of the decisions. In both cities cited, the problem is one of priorities. In Cleveland the highest priority was to (lispense the goodies to the neighborhoods of the council members. This is a result of the ward system. In Cincinnati, with no ward system, the political process recognized that streets were not the highest infrastructure priority. ~ do not think that the solution to the urban infrastructure prob- lem is to return to the approach of Boss Tweed minus the corruption. At the micro level, such as the ward, purely political decisions do not result in the maximization of benefits to the community as a whole. If a city has a ward system, it may be necessary to stretch to justify street repair projects that merely ensure that each ward gets its share of the grave] and asphalt. Because streets are obvious to the citizen and sewers are not, streets get resurfaced that do not need it, while the repair of sewers beneath them is neglected. Sanders admonishes us that allocation of resources is political and that we must work within the political system to deal with infrastructure problems. It does not tell us how to do that.
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES Henry Gardner 173 ~ read this chapter twice. After the second reading, ~ suggest that it be retitled either "Pork Barre! Politics Solves Infrastructure Prob- lems" or "Cleveland: A Mode] for Local Government." ~ am not sure where the chapter is headed in its description of the differences between the newer, growing cities, such as Phoenix, and the older cities, such as Oakland and Cincinnati. Growth does not help manage the problem of infrastructure for cities that are not growing. The reason is that there is a variety of ways to pay for the expansion of facilities. When there is growth, expansion is relatively painless, as the growth in volume and values allows the costs to be absorbed. When facilities are self-financing, they may also be provided with relatively little pain, so long as the costs are spread widely or to a clientele that can afford the cost and wants the service. When they must be financed by taxing those who al- ready have services or to whom the new services will not be avail- able, the political task is infinitely more difficult. The chapter by Sanders suggests that we ought to Took more carefully at the performance of strong mayor and manager cities. ~ would hypothesize that we will not find major differences between them, although ~ think that that question should be examined. it is more important to compare the approaches and capacities for dealing with the infrastructure problem of the older cities that are not growing with those of the newer, growing cities. ~ think the chapter deals with the politics of decision making in too narrow a context. Cities provide not only facilities but also a wide range of other services that the public demands. The political problem is one of balancing among these services and facilities; balancing competing needs, such as police, libraries, parks, streets, etc. We need to look at cities like Cleveland, Oakland, Boston, and Cincinnati to identify their degrees of success in this balancing act. ~ am frankly surprised by the conclusion that the way to do this is to return to the approach of Boss Tweed, minus the corruption. Let me make some comments from the perspective of one state California that is not interested in returning to the style of either Tammany Hall or the Cleveland Council. California has been a leading state for improvement of the processes of representative government and also for an untainted decision-making process. After the adoption of Proposition 13, California cities had to con- tend with drastic reductions in funding sources. The state itself
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174 PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE must now face dwindling resources. In the case of Oakland, the availability of funds is a central problem. We could have taken the position that money for some things could be found by closing our libraries and shutting down some fire stations and other facilities. But that is not the way cities function. After Proposition 13, Oak- land lost 25-30 percent of its funds. This occurred after it had al- ready reduced its budget in the preceding 2 years by 10 percent. What we hac! to do was balance competing needs, all of which could be justified. We closed a fourth of our libraries and several fire stations. This produced a great public outcry. We reducer} our police force by 100, also over considerable public opposition. The Sanders chapter suggests that our city is on a 100-year cycle for road re- surfacing. That is not true we are on a 200-year cycle. The point is that we had to look at all manner of needs and costs and strike a balance among them. One could argue that this is only a problem for the older, poorer cities. That has not proved to be the case in California. Since Prop- osition 13, few new taxes have been adopted, even in wealthy, ho- mogeneous communities. Two of our wealthiest cities, HilIsboro and Piedmont, have refused to increase their school taxes. The point is that the public is not willing to pay for it all, so we have to decide what to continue to provide. The alternative approaches to the political process appear to be these: (1) Dig up the ghost of Boss Tweed. (2) Do what the paper suggests: Use a system of pork barred politics that rewards certain groups and neighborhoods and proceed in a patchwork fashion. (3) Keep doing what we have been doing following a system- atic, engineering approach hoping the public will eventu- ally get the message. (4) Wait for the system to collapse, on the assumption that the public will then realize that something must be done and will be willing to foot the bill for it. (5) The approach ~ recommend: Deal directly with the fact that people do not want to pay more by: a. Improving the image of government. We must work to regain the confidence people have lost in the capacity of gov- ernment to act effectively and fairly in solving community problems. b. Educate the public on the needs. We must bring home
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 175 the facts, solicit the support of business and community groups, use the specific examples of problems as symptoms of the total problem, and develop comprehensive plans for resolving it. c. We must push our mayors and council members to mar- shall their forces and to take a more active leadership role. There never is a good time to raise taxes. Too often when cuts in critical infrastructure systems like sewers are suggested, there is no Friends of the Sewer to rally support, as there are the Friends of the Library, the Museum, and the Parks. The proper balance cannot be found for the city as a whole when some of its crucial facilities have no supporters until they collapse. Finally, we must look to creating financing mechanisms to deal with some of our problems. SUMMARY Does the Political System Doom Us to a Substandard Level of Service? In some respects the message of the chapter and discussion is that the political system, as it has developed and as it works, pro- duces a substandard level of service. The tendency of the system is to postpone decisions and to defer maintenance. Yet the engineering and financial studies tell us that we should not wait, that money can be saved through fixing things in time. Is there no way to avoid this dilemma? While there was no clear answer to this question, the point of the Sanders chapter is that for the system to work it is necessary for the interests in infrastructure to be advanced by people who seek some immediate, direct, and personal reward. Only then can these interests compete with others that have such advocates. One way of mobilizing these latent interests is to make information available about exactly what delays will cost. The political system provides the best channels for doing that a difficult and often nasty system of trade-offs. While it is more economical to perform preventive maintenance, the basic reality is that these modest in- vestments are often sacrificed. While it is surely accurate that de- cisions should be more efficient, making them may require real evidence of the consequences of neglect before people understand the costs and demand action.
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176 PERSPECTIVES ON URBANINFRASTRUCTURE The Role of the Public Works Professional and Manager The boss system is based on an assumption of an endless cor- nucopia of money. Like sending a drunk down an alley, it is likely he will get to the other end, but not in a very efficient manner. It is the public works professional's role in the political process to try to provide some rational priorities so that resources can be con- served and the important issues are not ignored or glossed over. The pork barred works when there is rapid growth, when re- sources are expanding. Even in strong traditional boss cities like Chicago, the machine began to get into trouble when growth in resources began to slacken. Even Mayor Daley was in trouble by the end of his tenure as federal money for the city declined. As finances declined, so did his total power, and centrifugal forces began to rip the machine apart, since not all elements could con- tinue to be pacified with the resources available. The last two may- ors who inherited! the machine have been defeated. Someone has to pose the central questions to the electec} offi- cials and that is the key responsibility of the public works profes- sional. When department heads forget this role and instead become mere political brokers, they assume inappropriate roles. Savannah, which has a politically strong mayor and an effective city manager, also has had a stable political system. The city has developed a professional system of condition assessment and planning that has permitted it to order its priorities in the face of declining resources. This approach has worked politically. The mayor has just been elected to his fourth term. Good staff work has allowed him to make political promises and to keep them. The old boss system is very inefficient, and such inefficiencies can no longer be afforded. Public works professionals are responsible for logical engineering and management analysis. They have to bring more reality to the decision-making process, so that the ultimate decision makers will weigh competing priorities and so they can understand how they must marshal! their resources to gain acceptance of the necessary decisions. To do this, public works professionals must be sensitive to the political process. The Neec! to Understand the Trade-Offs Both public works professionals and politicians must recognize the changes that have taken place in public expectations with re
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POLITICS AND URBAN PUBLIC FACILITIES 177 specs to levels of service. These have to be reconciled with the fact that current resources do not permit a dramatic increase in services. Therefore, service levels will have to change. An important problem is how to bring more rationality to the process of making those trade-offs. This requires improved information as well as an im- proved process by which the information is translates} so that de- partment heads, political leaders, interest groups, and the general public can understand what the choices are. One serious problem in improving the use and translation of information is the tendency to rely on anecdotes as evidence, and particularly on inaccurate anecdotal information. Boss Tweed, for instance, did pave a lot of streets. But he also left the water system in bad shape and built dams with severe structural defects. Many of his projects were dismal failures. Such examples of political de- cisions that are uninformed, poorly informed, or misinformed by professionally developed technical information are not relegated to the nineteenth century; some are of recent vintage. The Engineering Brain Drain and Local Public Works Decisions The role of planners and managers in the decision-making process has increased, while that of the professional engineer has declined. In part this seems to be a result of the movement of many engineers away from public works professions into the newer aspects of en- gineering. Space, electronics, and environmental engineering have attracted more of the better engineers. We are not now training as many engineers for careers in local and state governments. The growth of the regulatory control and the openness of that process has also made the decision-making process more difficult for the traditionally trained engineer to negotiate. The growing complexity of the process demands that the engineer be more rational and more competent. It is unlikely that the current decision-making system could support a great intuitive public works iLeader such as Robert Moses.
Representative terms from entire chapter: