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Some Hard Truths about Infrastructure

Douglass Sims, the Director of Strategy and Finance for the Center for Market Innovation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently wrote a blogpost on EcoDistricts about the importance of shifting our thinking around infrastructure projects. The new vision he discusses, called High Road Infrastructure, prioritizes community needs when developing infrastructure projects so as not to exacerbate poor health outcomes, racial disparities, and environmental degradation in communities. Douglass is presenting with Caroline Wagner, Program Director at Enterprise Community Partners, at the EcoDistricts Summit on October 11 about the opportunities to leverage major infrastructure investments to improve economic, social, and environmental benefits for communities. Below is an excerpt from Douglass Sims’ blog post.

By Douglass Sims

Full version originally posted on EcoDistricts Blog.

When our country was first being built, our vision of infrastructure was one of potentially unlimited expansion and opportunity. Communities and citizens would be linked and supported in ways that fostered growth and prosperity for generations to come.

We continue to think of infrastructure projects in this way, but we have a lot more information now about how practices of the past have contributed to air and water pollution, and divisions within our cities and communities.

Why do real estate and infrastructure projects that sound good on paper end up reinforcing old patterns of poor health outcomes, racial disparity, and environmental degradation?

These are the questions we’re asking at EcoDistricts Summit 2017, and after some three years of research and work, we think we’ve got some answers about how to do infrastructure better.

How It Started

In 2014, the Ford Foundation commissioned NRDC to lead a cross-disciplinary research team to explore options and opportunities for generating more and better infrastructure investments to build 21st-century communities. Our work included extensive discussions with several cities and counties, including a close engagement with municipal agencies in Denver and Los Angeles, and collaboration with national and international stakeholders through the Obama White House’s Build America Initiative and the Clinton Global Initiative America Infrastructure Working Group. Our investigation led us to a new vision for infrastructure investment and to an understanding of specific processes needed to ensure the principles work in reality. Our work has led to a series of papers and a newly completed video explaining the concept of what we call High Road Infrastructure.

It’s a philosophy, bolstered by concrete principles and implementation plans, that aligns with the increasing belief across a wide range of public, private, and philanthropic stakeholders that infrastructure projects should deliver multiple public benefits, including improved environmental and social performance.

Read the full blogpost on EcoDistrcits Blog.



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