Rethinking Infrastructure Funding

COMMENTARY

It Is Time to Rethink the U.S. Highway Model

Our highway funding system based on per-gallon fuel taxes is breaking down for several reasons.

By
I’ve been writing this Public Works Financing column for more than two decades. During this time, I’ve researched and written dozens of policy studies on transportation infrastructure, advised federal and state transportation agencies, and served on various transportation committees and commissions. From all of this I’ve concluded that the way we fund and manage the U.S. highway system is broken and needs serious rethinking if it’s going to meet the needs of 21st century America.

The problems are legion, beginning with the huge direct cost of traffic congestion in America’s 200 or so urban areas—a whopping $160 billion per year just in wasted time and fuel. And while our highways and bridges are not “crumbling,” there are chronic problems of deferred maintenance, leading to many rough roads and a surprisingly large number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.

Our highway funding system based on per-gallon fuel taxes is breaking down for several reasons. A growing share of the proceeds is no longer spent on highways, so people have come to view gas taxes as just another tax, which politicians are therefore leery of increasing. Yet as cars continue to get more efficient—using fewer gallons to go a given distance—revenues from per-gallon fuel taxes can’t keep pace with either the growth in driving or the cost of building and maintaining highways.

Moreover, with decisions on how to spend transportation revenues being largely political, at both state and federal levels, the billions raised and spent each year are often not spent on projects that would produce the most bang for the buck. Most federal highway and transit money is doled out by formula, and although members of Congress are no longer allowed to “earmark” pet projects, the overall process is based far more on politics than on sound economic principles (such as ensuring that benefits of a project exceed its costs).

I now think that a far better model would be to reconceive highways as another category of network utility, in addition to the familiar examples of electricity, water supply, telecommunications, and natural gas. Most network utilities are not run by government agencies, with key decisions made by legislators. Instead, the providers are organized as companies that sell services to customers, under government oversight. That’s true regardless of whether those companies are owned by investors or are government enterprises (like municipal electric and water utilities).

If highways were provided by highway utility companies—investor-owned concession companies, government toll agencies, or nonprofit user co-ops—a great many things would be different. For example:

  • People would pay for highways based on how much they use them, just as we pay for water by the gallon and electricity by the kilowatt hour.
  • People would be just as familiar with what highways cost, based on their monthly bill, as they are with the cost of cable television, cell phones, electricity, etc.
  • Per-mile highway charges would be subject to some form of regulatory oversight, based on the extent to which the highways and bridges in question had competitors or were essentially monopolies.
  • Large-scale highway investments—for new highways and for replacing worn-out ones—would be financed via the capital markets, just as individuals do in buying a home and as other utilities do in building new facilities, rather than being paid for piecemeal out of annual appropriations.
  • Major highway investments would be primarily business decisions, not political decisions, subject of course to the same kinds of land-use and environmental constraints faced by all other commercial developments.
  • Highway operations would be managed in real time, to provide customers with the quality of services they were willing to pay for.
  • Highway companies would have strong incentives to keep their facilities in excellent condition, to attract and keep customers.

That may sound like a utopian vision, but there are reasons to think we are at a point where dramatic change will be necessary. The federal government is on a path toward insolvency, where nearly all federal revenues will be consumed by entitlements, defense, and paying the interest owed on the national debt. There will be no “general revenue” left over to bail out a Highway Trust Fund.

Most state governments are saddled with huge unfunded pension and health care obligations to retired public employees, so they are not in a position to take up the slack from a reduced federal role in transportation. And per-gallon fuel taxes will have to be replaced by a propulsion-neutral funding source—some form of per-mile charging.

These conditions set the stage for the transformation to a new highway system, supported by three other key developments. One is the growing worldwide success of revenue-financed public-private partnership (P3) concession projects for highways and other transport infrastructure. Compared with Australia, Chile, France, and Spain, the United States has hardly scratched the surface of what is possible.

Second is the emergence of global infrastructure investment funds, which have amassed over $350 billion of equity to invest in revenue-producing infrastructure in the past five years. Most of this is being invested in European, Asia-Pacific, and Latin American infrastructure—but these funds clearly desire to invest far more in the United States, if only there were a “pipeline of projects.” America’s aging, hyper-congested highway system could offer an ample pipeline.

A third development is the increasingly recognized need for public pension funds to diversify their portfolios by investing more in revenue-producing infrastructure. That’s hard to do in U.S. transportation, because nearly all airports, highways, and seaports are owned and operated by governments. But P3 concessions open such infrastructure to serious investment by non-profit pension funds as well as for-profit investment funds.

The transformation of U.S. highways from state-owned enterprises to highway utility companies could not happen overnight. But in my forthcoming book, Rethinking America’s Highways: A 21st Century Vision for Better Infrastructure (University of Chicago Press, June 2018), I lay out scenarios showing how a several-decades transition could occur. The book shows that investor-owned toll roads have a long European and U.S. history that was overlooked once motor vehicles arrived on the scene. The concept was rediscovered in post-World War II Europe, and it spread to Australia, China, and Latin America late in the 20th century. It is only in the last 15 years that P3 highway infrastructure has gained a toe-hold in the USA.

The preview of the White House infrastructure plan (leaked on January 22nd) offers some steps toward beginning this transition. It recognizes the need to reduce the direct funding role of the federal government for infrastructure owned and operated by state and local governments. It provides for expanded P3 financing tools (Private Activity Bonds, Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act programs, etc.) as well as repealing the federal ban on toll-financed Interstate reconstruction and modernization. And by not embracing a federal fuel tax increase, it de-facto encourages the needed shift from per-gallon gas tax to per-mile charging, led (as it should be) by the states that own the highway infrastructure.

A version of this column first appeared in Public Works Financing.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.

 

Trump’s infrastructure plan hits early roadblock over funding

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg, WP Bloomberg

 

Top Democrats are questioning President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan even before it’s released, raising doubts about whether the administration’s approach can win bipartisan support.

Trump has long touted his plan to upgrade U.S. public works as something that can win Democratic backing, and he will appeal to Democrats on infrastructure in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He’s offering at least $200 billion in federal money over 10 years to spur states, localities and the private sector to spend as much as $1.6 trillion.

Democrats say that’s not nearly enough. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats have called for $1 trillion in federal investment. The American Society of Civil Engineers has said more than $2 trillion in additional funding is needed by 2025 to upgrade conditions of everything from roads, bridges and airports to mass transit and drinking water.

“It’s a ‘nothing burger,’” Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said of the administration’s proposal in a Jan. 9 interview. “It has to have real investment, not just a bunch of polemics and ideology pretending to be taking major steps to rebuild our infrastructure.”

Infrastructure is the next big item on Trump’s legislative agenda, after a failed attempt to overhaul health care and passing a tax bill last year. But Democrats’ call for more funding comes in addition to the tax measure costing $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and Republican leaders say they don’t want a big spending bill. The push also follows the acrimonious government shutdown, and lawmakers are already fighting about budget spending with mid-term elections looming in November.

Trump is expected to tout his infrastructure plan in his State of the Union speech, and detailed principles will be transmitted to Congress a week or two after that to start the legislative process, adviser DJ Gribbin said.

With Republicans controlling the Senate by only a 51-49 margin, Trump needs Democratic votes. It’s unlikely an infrastructure bill can pass on a simple, party-line majority, the way the tax overhaul was enacted last year, using what’s known as budget reconciliation.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the leading Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a former governor, said he supports encouraging states and localities to generate funding for projects. But he returned from a meeting with administration officials earlier this month skeptical about their approach.

“Can we do a better job using scarce resources to leverage state and local monies? Yes,” he said. “But I’m still not sure how you transform $200 billion into $1 trillion. You’ll have to show me.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he has told Trump that any bill must be bipartisan and fiscally responsible.

Democrats will want to address the Highway Trust Fund, which uses primarily federal fuel taxes to help fund state and local projects but is projected to become insolvent by 2021, Shuster said. Republicans don’t want deficit spending, he said.

“So we have to find a path forward that satisfies both the Democrats and Republicans,” Shuster said. “But I believe there is a path forward.”

Trump will appeal to Democrats in his State of the Union speech that a bipartisan approach is needed to rebuild the country, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, said on “Fox News Sunday.” Trump has eyed Democratic support for his public-works plan, in part because it means jobs for the Democrats’ traditional allies in labor unions.

There’s no doubt that Democrats in Congress will want more federal dollars, but there’s a significant debt problem in the U.S., Short said. “This can’t just be all federal largess that pays for this,” he said.

Some governors and mayors have said they’re already paying their fair share and that they need a better federal partner. But Trump wants to allow communities to keep more of their funds, make their own decisions, and “simplify the federal bureaucratic maze,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

“The Washington establishment still thinks that infrastructure can only be built correctly if they make all the decisions and control the purse strings, but one look at the crumbling bridges and roads across America shows that approach has failed,” Walters said in an email.

Still, allocating $200 billion in federal funds is “a drop in the bucket” compared with the cost for slashing taxes for corporations and the wealthy in the tax bill, said Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. It appears Trump also wants to shift the funding burden to states and cities already strapped for cash, he said.

“This is not a formula to pull our infrastructure out of disrepair,” Wyden said in a statement.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said “a token GOP infrastructure plan” that guts environmental protections, privatizes assets and increases tolls won’t work, and that Democrats “will continue to fight for broad, bold federal investment.”

Trump’s White House wants to change the approach to funding projects to reduce over-reliance on federal money and get more public works built and maintained. A leaked draft of principles that emerged this week said half of the federal monies would go toward incentives in a competition to encourage non-federal entities that own most assets to secure their own funding for projects. Tax-exempt bonds also would be expanded to help attract private investment, according to the draft.

White House officials have said the plan being developed also would allocate funding for rural projects, money for federal lending programs and “transformative” projects that can’t secure private financing. Streamlining environmental reviews and permitting to get project approvals in an average of two years also will be part of the plan, officials have said.

Gribbin said the White House is “open to conversations” with lawmakers about increasing the $200 billion, and the administration is purposely not including new revenue in its proposal to allow those details to be negotiated with Congress.

Congressional Republicans have been supportive of streamlining project approvals and leveraging federal dollars, though lawmakers who represent rural areas, including John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have expressed concerns about relying too heavily on private investment that doesn’t work well in less-populated areas.

Barrasso has said his panel was working on a bill while waiting for a White House proposal. Committee Democrats outlined a blueprint in July that called for more than $500 billion and may draft their own measure, Carper said. Other committees would also be involved.

While some administration proposals are good, $200 billion in federal funds “barely gets you out of the starting gate” in addressing deficient bridges and other U.S. needs, said Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who co-founded Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of officials that promotes infrastructure spending. He called the White House framework “dead on arrival.”

“It’s all show and no go,” Rendell said. “You can’t do infrastructure without a significantly sized federal commitment, and I think it has no chance to get Democratic votes — and it won’t get 100 percent of the Republican votes because of the Tea Party.”

Ray LaHood, a Republican and former transportation secretary under President Barack Obama, said he thinks it’s possible to find a spending amount that both Democrats and Republicans could support “if people will be reasonable and talk to one another.”

“I think the administration really wants to be bipartisan on infrastructure and wants to include Democrats and wants Democrats in the room when the bill is written and when the funding sources are really determined,” said LaHood, who is a co-chairman of Building America’s Future.

Even so, getting a major infrastructure bill enacted in 2018 will be “an uphill climb,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, representing more than 26,000 construction companies and other firms. Sandherr said a lot of his members are more optimistic than he is because of the partisan political battles during the past year.

“To think that they’re all going to now, all of a sudden in the new year sit around a campfire, hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ on infrastructure is a little bit unrealistic,” Sandherr said on a conference call with reporters earlier this month.

What Amazon wants for its new HQ

MIAMI MAKES ITS CASE FOR AMAZON’S SECOND HQ

FOX Business

 

Just 20 cities are left standing in the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters and the 50,000 jobs it will bring.

Future is Bright for train travel in Florida

First ride: Aboard Florida’s new Brightline train

Lisa Broadt, The (Stuart, Fla.) News, Published 9:11 p.m. ET Jan. 12, 2018 | Updated 9:12 p.m. ET Jan. 12, 2018

 

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On the eve of Brightline passenger rail launching in South Florida, the railroad already is looking beyond its original goal of service between Miami and Orlando.

Brightline’s intercity system could be expanded within Florida to Jacksonville or Tampa and could be replicated in other states with similar demographics, including Georgia and Texas, railroad officials said at a media event Friday.

“Our vision doesn’t stop here,” said Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s parent company. “Our goal is to look at other corridors with similar characteristics — too long to drive, too short to fly.”

Brightline — the country’s only privately owned and operated passenger railroad — is to officially begin passenger service Saturday morning.

For now, trains will run between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But the railroad will expand to Miami later this year, with full service to Orlando still two years away.

Elected officials and members of the media on Friday took the 40-minute trip on BrightGreen, one of Brightline’s five colorful diesel-electric trains.

It was a chance for the $3.1 billion railroad to show off the amenities they say will set Brightline apart from other forms of public transportation, including Tri-Rail, South Florida’s existing commuter rail.

Leather seats, wide aisles, bike racks, free wireless Internet — with two power outlets and two USB ports per seat — are among the amenities Brightline says will appeal to its target customers, which include tourists, business travelers and Millennials.

Friday’s event also was a chance for Brightline to introduce the staff that it says will provide world-class hospitality.

Train attendant Whytni Walker, 23, of West Palm Beach said she applied to Brightline because she wanted “to be part of something new.”

Walker said she believes the staff, many of whom are Millennials, are helping to create a vibrant atmosphere aboard the trains and in the stations.

“There’s energy everywhere,” Walker said. “Since training began, there hasn’t been a dull day.”

But even with the launch of service just hours away, Brightline officials on Friday were focused on the future.

The project’s successful launch — and performance in the coming years — could have implications for passenger rail nationwide, Edens said in an interview with USA TODAY.

To be economically viable, the railroad must capture 2% of the approximately 100 million annual trips between Miami and Orlando, according to Edens.

The private-equity investor and co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks said he’s confident Brightline will deliver.

“The service offering and the convenience and the expense of it are so compelling that 2% seems like a good risk,” Edens said.

The Brightline model could be replicated in other highly populated, highly congested city pairs, such as Atlanta-Charlotte, Houston-Dallas and Dallas-Austin, according to Edens.

The company has long said that its use of the Florida East Coast Railway — a Miami-to-Jacksonville corridor established in the late 19th century but currently used only for freight — was a key factor in making Brightline financially viable.

Similar infrastructure exists in Texas and Georgia and is, in fact, abundant in many areas of the country, according to Edens.

“The U.S. has very poor passenger rail, but the best freight system in the world,” he said. “The existing infrastructure is very usable in many of these places.”

Within Florida, Tampa and Jacksonville are among the most obvious expansion opportunities, Edens said, adding that each comes with unique benefits. Expansion from Orlando to Tampa, Florida’s second-largest city by population, would be aided by the fact that the state owns right-of-way between the cities, while an expansion to Jacksonville, the northern terminus of the Florida East Coast Railway, would have the advantage of the existing infrastructure, according to Edens.

Introductory fares between West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are $10 each way for Smart Service, Brightline’s coach class, and $15 for Select Service, its business class. Seniors, active military personnel and veterans will receive a 10% discount, and children younger than 12 will ride for half price as part of discounted introductory fares, according to Brightline.

Initial service will include 10 daily round trips on weekdays and nine on weekends between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Brightline ticketing and schedule information is available online and through the railroad’s new mobile app.

Urban Mobility: Data Driven Decision-Making and Solutions

Who Owns Urban Mobility Data?

Policymakers need it; private transportation companies have it. Here’s one way to broker a solution.

   DAVID ZIPPER

 

How, exactly, should policymakers respond to the rapid rise of new private mobility services such as ride-hailing, dockless shared bicycles, and microtransit? As I argued here several months ago, in order to answer that question city leaders will need accurate and detailed information about all urban trips—however the traveler chose to get from one place to another. And that information needs to come in part from the private mobility companies that are moving a growing share of people within our cities.

In 2017, these services had a tumultuous year. Apocalyptic images of discarded dockless bikes in China left American officials that are experimenting with this model for bikesharing scrambling to ensure their cities avoid the same fate. Meanwhile, Uber’s admission that it paid a $100,000 ransom to hackers who stole 57 million user accounts damaged that company’s credibility as a protector of passenger privacy. And a widely shared study from researchers at University of California-Davis refuted several optimistic hypotheses about ride-hailing’s societal benefits: It found that companies like Uber and Lyft are spurring urban congestion, siphoning public transit riders, and failing to entice many people to give up their cars. Not coincidentally, transit agencies like Washington, D.C.’s WMATA are now launching their own investigations to see if declining ridership can be traced to the emergence of ride-hailing.

Beyond these broad issues, there are a number of specific questions that can’t be answered without access to trip information from Uber, Lyft, Limebike, and the like. For example, without such data it’s hard for policymakers—or the general public—to decide if it’s a good idea to convert a parking meter to a ride-hailing drop-off point, or to ensure pedestrians aren’t obstructed by heaps of dockless bikeshare bikes on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, new mobility services have generally refused to let the public sector see inside their data vaults.

But the tide is turning, especially as the line between public and private forms of urban transportation blurs. American transit agencies are partnering with ride-hailing companies to offer late-night service, move people to bus or rail stations (“first mile/last mile” solutions), and manage paratransit for riders with limited mobility. Ride-hailing companies are in an awkward position if they refuse to share data with governments that subsidize them. “If I’m paying you to move a passenger, the data for that passenger isn’t yours,” I heard a Texas transit official say recently to a ride-hailing executive. “It’s mine.” The executive had no response.

When will policymakers finally be able to access the data they need to manage streets and sidewalks in the public interest, and how will they get it? The most likely solution is via a data exchange that anonymizes rider data and gives public experts (and perhaps academic and private ones too) the ability to answer policy questions.

This idea is starting to catch on. The World Bank’s OpenTraffic project, founded in 2016, initially developed ways to aggregate traffic information derived from commercial fleets. A handful of private companies like Grab and Easy Taxi pledged their support when OpenTraffic launched. This fall, the project become part of SharedStreets, a collaboration between the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the World Resources Institute, and the OECD’s International Transport Forum to pilot new ways of collecting and sharing a variety of public and private transport data. Kevin Webb, the founder of SharedStreets, envisions a future where both cities and private companies can utilize SharedStreets to solve questions on topics like street safety, curb use, and congestion.

That’s a laudable goal, but Shared Streets will have to solve several challenges in order to become a go-to resource. For example, it’s hard to provide a complete picture of urban mobility unless the heavyweights like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuxing, Ofo, and Mobike participate; so far none of them has signed on. There is also the question of how tech behemoths like Google and Apple—collectors of massive datasets about individuals’ movement—can be involved. Perhaps they can be sources of reliable revenue that SharedStreets will need in order to scale (at present the initiative is being incubated with philanthropic support).

Finally, there is the critical question of privacy. Although Uber’s hacking scandal has dinged ride-hailing’s credibility as a protector of passenger data, new mobility services do have a point when they push back against handing over rider information to the government. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some customers will balk at the prospect of public agencies accessing their personal ride histories. Webb says that SharedStreets will handle those concerns by collecting aggregated data that is rich enough to allow for deep analysis while still hiding information about individual rides. New mobility service companies could further protect their passengers by converting trip data into so-called “synthetic populations” of artificial data modeled after trips that people actually took.

However the new mobility service data arrives—almost certainly aggregated, and potentially artificially modeled—there will need to be a way to ensure it is accurate. After all, companies like Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in the questions policymakers pose about their impact on city streets. Data validation—especially for modeled data—is crucial for such an exchange to be trusted.

Bosch: The Smart City Of The Future Has Arrived

Conducting connected pilots in 14 urban centers worldwide

       

 

While much of CES is focused on the smart home, Bosch is looking beyond our abodes to the mega metropolises that house them.

Leveraging its IoT, AI, software and sensor smarts – the building blocks of smart cities – the Germany-based business is already working to cure many of the ills that plague large urban areas, including traffic, pollution, high energy consumption and crime.

In a CES Media Day presentation on Monday, Bosch Group management board member Dr. Stefan Hartung and Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch North America, cited 14 current “Beacon” projects in metroplexes worldwide, where “The smart city of the future is already here,” Hartung said.

Among the pilots: A connected-parking program, being tested this year in 20 U.S. cities, in which specially-equipped cars automatically report available parking spaces to the Cloud as they pass, helping to reduce traffic, fuel consumption, pollution and time spent hunting for a spot.

The company is also outfitting 5,000 streetlights in San Leandro, Calif., to only illumine when needed, which is expected to save the municipality $8 million over 15 years.

On the product front, Bosch has developed a shoebox-sized micro-climate monitoring unit called Climo that urban managers can use for traffic control. A winner of a CES 2018 Innovation Award, the device is one-tenth the cost and one-hundredth the size of standard monitors, Mansuetti said.

The executives also touted a telematic eCall plug, which fits into a car’s cigarette lighter and can monitor and report the driver’s performance, and emit an emergency alert signal if needed. The device can help calm parents of young drivers and reward safe motorists with discounted insurance rates.

To help make smart cities a reality, Bosch has deployed 4,000 IoT engineers and is operating three AI research centers, in Germany, India and Silicon Valley. Why the urgency? According to Hartung, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in mega cities by 2050, while Mansuetti pointed to the big business that smart city has become: 19 percent annual growth and a projected 800 million Euros in expenditures by 2020.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DATA

Miami’s New Vision as a Global City seeks to expand Economic Opportunity

The Miami Urban Future Initiative is a joint initiative with FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and CCG sponsored in part by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,  which will lead new research and mapping on economic, occupational, creative and technological assets in Miami, in partnership with renowned experts, to provide necessary data, evidence and strategy to grow a more inclusive, creative economy for a 21st century global Miami. Miami has reached a crossroads. Its economy – historically based on tourism, hospitality, transportation, and real-estate development – has deepened, diversified, and become more creative and idea-based, as banking, media, arts, education, and new technology-based industries have assumed a larger role. The region now finds itself at a critical inflection point.

While growing, Miami’s creative class — those who make a living by using their minds in arts & design, science, technology, law, & medical industries or academia, media, management, & finance — only make up 25% of the workforce, a much smaller share than regions like Washington, D.C. (44.6%),  Chicago or& L.A. (31.5% each). Miami also suffers from challenges arising from a rapidly growing urban center. This Initiative will develop additional research about Miami’s creative economy and divides, while working across the business, civic, and academic communities to shape a constructive, future-oriented dialogue.

Through this Initiative, they hope to provide the thought leadership and awareness required to guide Miami’s evolution as a global city through data-driven research and assessments of the key trends shaping the region, disseminate this information and inform the broad strategic vision for the region’s private and public stakeholders through ongoing local convenings and briefs and bring global thought-leaders and practitioners to bear on thinking about the region’s future through high-level events and convenings on issues important to Miami and global cities.

More than two decades ago, Alejandro Portes, now at the University of Miami, and Alex Stepick of FIU dubbed Miami as a “city on the edge,” with many assets and many challenges. The region’s transformation, they added, was a story of “change without a blueprint.” Miami has seen one of its greatest growth waves since that time, benefiting from the strategic action of visionary stakeholders, groups, universities and colleges, and mayors since. It is now time to renew the region’s commitment to a regional strategy and to engage a broad region-wide conversation about a more inclusive prosperity that takes into account the mounting realities and challenges that face the region today. The time to act is now: if it misses this opportunity, the region risks losing the economic advantages it has achieved.

To this end, FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and Creative Class Group (CCG) created the FIU-Miami Creative City Initiative, an ongoing collaboration to better understand the forces that are shaping the future of Miami. Their aim is to build upon the strong foundation created by the region’s political, business, academic, and civic leadership and organizations over the past several decades to help identify the key things Miami can do to position itself as a more innovative, creative, inclusive, and prosperous global city and region.

Miami Urban Future Initiative Research Report: Miami Ranks 6th Among Large U.S. Metros on the New Urban Crisis Index

Miami’s rankings on the various equity metrics include:

  • Income Inequality. Miami ranks second among large U.S. metros in terms of income inequality.
  • Wealth Segregation. Miami ranks tenth among large U.S. metros according to its segregation of the wealthy, a measure of the residential segregation of households with incomes of $200,000 or more.
  • Overall Segregation. Miami ranks sixteenth among large U.S. metros on the Segregation Inequality Index, a combined measure of economic segregation and both wage and income inequality.
  • Housing Unaffordability. Miami ranks among the twenty least-affordable metros in the world in terms of its “median multiple,” or ratio of median housing prices to median household income.
  • Concentrated Poverty. 14 percent of Greater Miami households and one in five families with children lived below the poverty line.
  • Middle Class Decline. In Miami, the middle-class share of population declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 48.5 percent in 2014.

How big is too big for a city?

Urban Population

Up to the Industrial Revolution people all over the world lived mainly in the countryside. In 1800, only 3 % of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1900 only 12 cities had more than 1 million people.

Today, about half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. There are over 400 cities with more than a million people. In developed countries, up to 70 % or more live in larger cities, whereas in poorer countries this rate is below 40 %.

During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century cities grew fast, especially in Europe and North America, because new industries were created there and people found many jobs . Later on cities grew more slowly because they became overcrowded and diseases could spread faster. Today death rates in cites are low because they have better doctors and more hospitals.

In industrialized countries the growth of cities has stopped. New York and London grew very quickly during the 1800s and early 1900s, but since then their growth has slowed down.

African and Asian cities like Lagos, Bombay or Calcutta are growing rapidly and this will probably continue during the next years. About 40 cities around the world have a population of over 5 million . They are called megacities . 80% of them are in poorer countries.

People go to the cities for many reasons. The table shows you what pulls them to the cities and what pushes them away from the countryside.

Pull factors

  • more and better jobs
  • better hospitals and health care
  • better living standards
  • cities are social and financial centres
  • better education—schools and universities

Push factors

  • too many people in the countryside
  • low income
  • not enough raw materials (water, wood etc..)
  • the quality of farming land is getting worse

Can a city become too big?

The number of megacities has been increasing so rapidly in the last few decades that many are experiencing serious growing pains.

There are now some three dozen megacities in the world, each sprawling areas home to more than 10 million people. Bigger cities come with obvious advantages, the increase in people, interactions and infrastructures create more opportunities and efficiencies. But massive population growth has also led to more pollution, spiralling rent, and crumbling infrastructure.

These problems, according to theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, increase alongside population growth. “The bigger you are the more you get per capita. So the bigger you are, the more Aids cases there are, the more higher wages, the more crime there is, the more patents are produced and so forth. All in a systematic, predictable way.”

West says all the super-sized cities around the world seem to share this concept of super-linear scaling. “In order to sustain growth,” he says, “you need to continuously innovate and you need to do it at a faster and faster rate. So that the time between major innovations gets shorter and shorter, and the pace of life has to necessarily get faster and faster to sustain that growth.”

While they may share the same principles, the reasons driving them are very different. Each are under different pressures as they struggle to support increasing numbers. Here are five cautionary tales from megacities, that together paint a fuller picture of the consequences of the spiralling urban population.

  • CAIRO – CONGESTION
  • LONDON – HOUSE PRICES
  • MUMBAI – TRANSPORT
  • JAKARTA – SEA LEVEL
  • SHANGHAI – AIR POLLUTION

By 2030, the United Nations predicts that there will be 41 megacities total with a population of 10 million or more.

Despite the ominous numbers, Geoffrey West has some good news. “If we make it through this critical next 30 years,” says West, “one of the things that will happen, we believe, although it’s very controversial, is that the population overall will stabilize.

“Somewhere towards the three-quarter point of the century we will see an effective slowing really, kind of stabilization of the global population,” he says. “At some stage, associated with that, we might see a stabilization of the migration to cities.” Time will tell if he is correct.

Shanghai to cap population at 25 million to battle ‘big city disease’

SHANGHAI — China’s financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage “big city disease”, the cabinet has said.

The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai’s masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved.

“By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometers,” it said.

State media has defined “big city disease” as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care.

Shanghai shows off its beauty as China's financial hub

A Chinese police officer directs traffic on a busy road in Shanghai, China, on Sept. 27, 2016. Yu shenli / Imaginechina via AP

Many of China’s biggest cities also face surging house prices, stirring fears of a property bubble.

Shanghai, which sits on China’s eastern coast, had a permanent population of 24.15 million at the end of 2015, the official Xinhua news agency said last year.

The city has also said it would intensify efforts to protect the environment and historic site as part of its master plan.

Rethinking Detroit

Getting there from here!

Throughout the history of mankind, people have always faced a great divide and responded by asking themselves, “How do we get there from here?”

Facing thousands of miles of forest, mountains, rivers and even desert separating America’s east coast from the west, pioneers responded first with covered wagons, then with railroads and finally with a system of interstate highways.

One hundred years ago, innovators faced the 50 miles that separated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama and responded with a canal that would transform global trade.

Fifty years ago, visionaries gazed at the moon in the night sky and again challenged themselves to figure out how we could get there from here.  They responded with engineering marvels of space exploration.

Today, we are faced with another divide – one of funding, where policy and political will rather than physical distance and geography separates us.

Historically, Congress has authorized transportation funding for six years at a time, recognizing that major infrastructure projects are long-term investments that can’t move forward without reliable funding streams. But, in recent years, Congress has succeeded in passing only two-year band-aid bills, shifting $52 billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008 to keep it from going insolvent.

The reason for this chronic shortfall is our nation’s singular reliance on the gas tax to pay for transportation needs, and its failure to keep up. The gas tax is not indexed to rise with inflation and our leaders have not summoned the political resolve to raise the tax in more than 20 years. And that’s just compounded by the growth in more fuel-efficient vehicles and those that don’t require gasoline at all.

Some, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association argue for substantial increases in the gas tax. Others, like the conservative Heritage Action group, promote eliminating the federal gas tax altogether and letting states fund 100 percent of their transportation needs.

Clearly, a great divide. Like many divides, the failure to bridge this one is costly.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades America’s infrastructure a D+ and estimates that American families and businesses are losing an estimated $101 billion a year in wasted time and fuel.

That same report estimates that driving on roads in need of repair costs Florida motorists $2.5 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. That’s $181.43 per motorist. ASCE rates 259 Florida bridges as structurally deficient and 1,785 as functionally obsolete. It estimates that Florida schools have $8.9 billion in infrastructure funding needs.

We must reach across political and philosophical divides to find solutions and build a fragile but needed consensus. These solutions are likely to include:

Greater latitude for states and local governments to enter into public-private partnerships to speed infrastructure projects with private funding.

Greater use of toll roads and toll lanes. This means we must defeat misguided efforts to tie decision-makers’ hands, such as a proposed Florida Constitutional amendment to prohibit new toll roads or toll increases without voter approval.

Greater use of transponder technology, such as SunPass, which ensures that drivers pay for roads as they use them.

And a long-term transportation funding bill funded by a continued and increased federal gas tax — at least as a transitory source, possibly paired with incentives to spur more innovative, technology-reliant funding solutions.

As with other great divides, success comes when we refuse to accept failure as an option. We need our leaders in Washington to find their political determination and apply that kind of resolve to this problem, quickly.

 

Walter Elias Disney: Transportation Visionary and Urban Planner

“I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin… how do we start answering this great challenge?” -Walt Disney

EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, began as Walt Disney’s idea of creating a better city. A utopian environment enriched in education, and in expanding technology. A perfect city with dependable public transportation, a soaring civic center covered by an all-weather dome, and model factories concealed in green belts that were readily accessible to workers housed in idyllic suburban subdivisions nearby.

The idea of having a perfect city was one of Walt Disney’s last projects. Before his death, in late 1966, Walt had bought up thousands of acres in central Florida, for an East Coast Disneyland, Walt Disney World. But all this was leading up to Walt’s true vision, a city without dirt, without grime, an experimental prototype city.

This idea of a perfect environment actually formed in Walt’s mind way before the actual thought of EPCOT. Disneyland is a perfect example. Its 25 foot Earthen Berm protects it from the outside world. With clean streets, and walkways, Disneyland was Walt’s first idea to have a better city, not like the 1950’s Los Angeles where Walt worked and lived.

Plans for the Florida Project, “Project X,” were being designed in a special room at the Disney Studios. This “Florida Room” had high ceilings and padded walls for pinning up plans. This room is where master plans were created for EPCOT, as well as Walt Disney World.

“EPCOT,” is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. WED Designer Marvin Davis said Walt created the phrase, he thought it was just right.

Shortly before Walt’s death, he made a film showcasing this new city. Before the filming he gave his presentation to a few friends, and afterwards asked “does this sound like a city you’d want to live in?” In the final product the EPCOT movie was a model for solving “today’s city problems . . . through proper master planning.” The movie continued, although, the city on the film was just a set, with a series of maps and charts. With a strong rhetorical image of wholeness, harmony, safety, and underlying order.

Unfortunately the EPCOT Walt Disney envisioned was never created. Walt Disney died of lung cancer at the hospital across the street from his studio. Work on EPCOT continued with fresh intensity. Although, the team would have to rely on the past thoughts from Walt; before Walt would come into the Florida room 2-3 times a week, bringing fresh ideas, and new excitement to the bunch. Marvin Davis recalls how “he designed the whole traffic flow around EPCOT on a little napkin.”

Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, was troubled by the thought of building a city. What did a Movie Studio know about water lines, power cables, sewer systems, and municipal government? When Marvin Davis presented his plans to Roy, they met with a sad, simple, answer. “Marvin,” Roy Disney spoke, “Walt’s dead.” So was the city known as EPCOT. So, plans then were shifted, first, to a Disneyland East- Magic Kingdom Park- a taller, and bigger park. Then a series of hotels, located on the edge of the property, to keep out unwanted intrusions.

Even though Walt’s dream of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was never developed, a World’s Fair type EPCOT does now exist. Although, a city truly new and experimental was designed, and is located on the Disney World Property, Celebration Florida is where remnant of EPCOT now resides. One wonders, what if Walt lived longer, would there have been an EPCOT? This question is inevitably unanswerable.

Walt Disney’s Vision of an EPCOT