Over the centuries, we’ve gotten better at planned communities
Massachusetts stands to receive nearly $10 billion in federal infrastructure funding. If half of this were designated for affordable housing and leveraged with private capital 5-to-1, the Commonwealth would bank $25 billion to fundamentally reshape the region’s housing landscape.
In “We have to go bold on housing. How about a new city?” (“The next Big Dig,” Ideas, June 26), David Scharfenberg exhorts us to think beyond conventional practice by creating livable, equitable new communities to accommodate urban growth.
Having studied new communities extensively; assisted developer James Rouse, whom Scharfenberg cites, in opening the planned community of Columbia, Md.; and advised on new communities in the United States and abroad, I endorse these innovative solutions to fiscal and organizational obstacles as catalysts for a comprehensive, inclusive 21st-century urban strategy.
Successful new communities incorporate economic, recreational, and cultural elements to complement housing, ensuring social equities and sustainability. Oft-cited, well-intended 19th-century new communities, such as New Harmony, were derided as utopian, divorced from engines of business growth and chained by political restrictions. Early-20th-century “garden cities” and their Depression-era progeny set the stage for Columbia’s success as “the best small city in America” and a profitable real estate venture. Rooted in novel financial and organizational structures, Columbia integrated business principles and social purposes, distinguished community services from real estate operations, and differentiated land development from homebuilding.
Policy makers and business leaders have much to learn from these precedents for sound, humane urbanization.
The writer, a former partner of Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and founding executive of the US Army’s public-private residential community partnerships, authored “Organizing and Managing New Towns” in the book “New Towns for the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Planned Communities Worldwide.”
Transit projects are ‘cool,’ but maintenance has to be first order of business
David Scharfenberg and the transit activists he quotes ignore the biggest problem with the T: lack of maintenance (“Fixing the T is not enough. We need a massive expansion.”). Almost all of the problems being experienced, with the exception of those with the new cars, are because officials never provide enough budget and labor to properly maintain what they have. Capital projects are cool, and they have “things,” like gleaming new stations, to show for it. Plus there’s usually funding for at least a portion. But maintenance isn’t made enough of a priority. So when there are competing interests, maintenance gets the short end of the stick.
We often hear people say that we should eliminate waste in government before raising taxes. In this case, the directive should be to take care of what you have before you add more. There should be no more expansion until the existing issues with maintenance are taken care of and appropriately funded for at least a 10-year period. Then any subsequent expansion should be required to include the cost of maintenance in the budget, with funding that is dedicated, not “subject to appropriation.”
High costs tend to halt grand ambitions
In his cover story for last Sunday’s infrastructure issue of the Ideas section, David Scharfenberg writes, “This city of grand ambitions has grown timid.” I believe there is a reason for that: Even relatively manageable projects like the Green Line extension face unreasonably high costs and long delays. Costs of projects like this are much higher in the United States than in most other industrialized countries. The Globe could do a great service by investigating why this is the case.