The conversation around infrastructure in America has never been more urgent or relevant than it is today. As our nation approaches the finish line of the 7th annual Infrastructure Week, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the action, advocacy and discussion we were fortunate to witness this week.
Here are some of our favorite moments from Infrastructure Week 2019.
1. When NLC President, Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson talked about the cost of local infrastructure.
“As our nation’s infrastructure ages, it becomes less reliable and, in some cases, less safe. Our residents and businesses feel the pinch when it takes more time to get to appointments and run errands. When the internet goes down or gets spotty, our businesses and our classrooms lose out on productive time. With every water line break or flooding disaster, the damage diverts critical dollars from residents and local governments.”
Read her full blog here: “Every Week Is Infrastructure Week for Local Leaders.”
2. When local leaders from across the country joined NLC in Washington to tell their story.
Let me tell you, these leaders did you proud. With compassion, urgency and a depth of understanding that can only come from addressing infrastructure challenges every day, they told Washington why each and every community needs infrastructure investment.
A deep thank you to Mayor Lily Mei of Fremont, California; Vice Mayor Corina Lopez of San Leandro, California; Councilmember James McDonald of Pinecrest, Florida; and Mayor Carlos Giménez of Miami-Dade County for advocating on behalf of local leaders everywhere.
3. When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh took a road trip to D.C. together to talk about infrastructure.
Baker is a republican. Walsh, a democrat. But they’ve both put party politics aside to advocate for infrastructure investment. The pair arrived in Washington on Wednesday to meet with Administration and Congressional officials.
“If you’re a farmer in rural America, you need infrastructure. If you’re working in a factory in the Mid-West, you need infrastructure. If you’re in an urban area, you need infrastructure,” said Walsh as he and Baker spoke on an Axios infrastructure panel.
“Infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Baker agreed. “It should be something everyone should agree on.”
4. When Senator Tom Carper told us the secret to happiness.
When Senator Carper joined NLC’s joint Capitol Hill Briefing Transportation’s Hometown Impact, he shared his commitment to a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and he left us with a little piece of advice.
He said, “The secret to happiness is serving others,” reminding us why Infrastructure Week matters. It’s all about the people we serve. It is our greatest honor to give them the tools they need to succeed.
5. When we learned why broadband was so critical to bridging the urban-rural divide.
As a society, we have a tendency to focus on physical infrastructure, forgetting to consider what we can’t see with our eyes. Access to broadband means access to healthcare, education and the possibility of a brighter future.
Majority Whip James Clyburn agrees. “Rural broadband has to be a significant part of any infrastructure bill… If we are going to educate our children, they have to be connected to the internet.”
Vice Mayor Corina Lopez reminds us that broadband mapping needs to be done in partnership with level of government. “We [local leaders] know our neighborhoods and communities. We know where the needs are. We are not at the table enough when the information is shared.”
6. When we learned how communities in Arkansas are taking access to broadband in to their own hands.
Until recently, the Arkansas legislature preempted local governments from establishing municipal broadband services. Now, communities in Arkansas are now empowered to pursue a 21stcentury infrastructure system that will help local economies compete.
“The things you can do with that sort of powerful signal shouldn’t be limited to just the high-population pockets in the state,” said Mark Hayes, Executive Director of the Arkansas Municipal League. We agree, Mark.
7. When Representative Kevin McCarthy told us why America needs infrastructure.
“A robust infrastructure at home helps American businesses compete around the world. There is bipartisan agreement about that,” said McCarthy at an Axios event. “People want to focus on how much money you have. I would like to focus on how we can unite.”
8. When we agreed that innovation doesn’t happen without risks.
To make our cities, towns and villages “smart,” America needs to be bolder and more equitable when repairing and building infrastructure. There will be times when we have to make the difficult decision to radically move away from existing systems because updating them will only bring us backwards, not forwards. We aren’t rebuilding for 1950—we’re rebuilding for 2050.
As Kris Carter, Co-Head, Office of New Urban Mechanics, city of Boston, MA put it, “We shape our infrastructure, thereafter our infrastructure shapes us.”
9. When we recognized that water infrastructure isn’t just about technology, but people.
We take water for granted, until we don’t have access to it any more. We need to find the best tools at the most affordable cost to improve the access of water infrastructure around the nation. Our residents need us to be problem solvers.
“We need to hire smart folks with degrees and cross-sectional degrees who come into the industry from an environmental perspective. If you’re not paying a real wage, and you have a workforce problem, then I know the reason you have a workforce problem.” – Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, Chief Executive Officer, Northeast Regional Sewer District, Cleveland, OH.
10. When local leaders and our state municipal league partners joined in from across the country.
Leaving the office to advocate for infrastructure in Washington is essential to getting a bipartisan bill passed. But we understand—and respect—the responsibilities you have at home. Some of you chimed in with your own infrastructure stories from afar—and we can’t tell you how thankful we are for it.
In Lansing, Michigan, the Michigan Municipal League co-hosted a Midwestern Summit on infrastructure, bringing together local elected officials, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and infrastructure experts across the state.
In Atlanta, the Georgia Municipal Association partnered with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to bring all types of public officials together to talk about the present and future of infrastructure in metro Atlanta—and how even small cities deal with infrastructure emergencies.
About the Author: Irma Esparza Diggs is a senior executive and director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Irma on Twitter @iediggs.