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As the article says, there are plenty of solutions for these problems, individually.

The predicament, as a whole, is that we cannot afford them.

Infrastructure quality is, like so many things, directly proportionate to investment. You can trade off future maintenance by spending more initially, or vice versa, but you can't magically reduce both at the same time while providing the same level of service.

This is precisely the same problem as Terry Pratchett talked about in the boots theory of economics: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/72745-the-reason-that-the-ri...

The problem is that the level of economic productivity supported by (for example) a strip mall is so low that it cannot support the ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure that is required to allow it to exist. This is also true for many suburban homes and office buildings.

You must either extract more productive value from the same land area and population, reduce service quality, or invest massive quantities of capital in maintenance cost reduction, which has virtually the same effect as either of the previous.




I think schools is as big (or bigger) of a problem than the infrastructure. So many towns are bedroom communities that have people commuting to other more dense areas. All the businesses that make money (and pay lots of taxes) are in those other dense areas, not local. Now the local community is on the hook forever to support the school base. Very few communities have rules saying that new developments must pay a substantial fee that could be saved against future school, infrastructure costs. But like most things in this country, people want it just don't want to pay for it (and if it is bad, don't want it here).


So the land could be used better. That's my takeaway from the article, too. If the zone can't afford the infrastructure then it should be repurposed/zoned. Bonus points if it makes cities more walkable/less designed by car.


>You can trade off future maintenance by spending more initially, or vice versa

Umm is that really true ? Maybe it is I just don't see why this would be - if anything I would guess spending more would lead to more expensive maintenance as well

> but you can't magically reduce both at the same time while providing the same level of service.

Not magic - innovation.


The classic example here is using concrete or asphalt for roads. Building a four-lane highway in concrete costs something like a million dollars per mile, all told. Building a four-lane highway with asphalt costs something like half as much. But the problem is that the asphalt highway will wear out much more quickly and will require you to go in every year and patch potholes, whereas the concrete highway will be much less susceptible to potholes and won't need to be torn up and repaved every 5-7 years. So by spending the extra money to build in concrete today, you're saving yourself extra expenses later on.

Of course, asphalt is cheaper and easier to put down, so there is always the temptation to go ahead and build the asphalt road now and take credit for it in front of voters while leaving the problem of maintaining those roads for the next person in office.


  if anything I would guess spending more would lead to
  more expensive maintenance as well
The idea is to buy a $100 thing that lasts 10 years, instead of a $20 thing that lasts one year, thus halving your long-term spending.

Of course, not all more expensive products last longer, so careful attention to value for money is a must.


I get the concept in theory I'm just not sure it's a given in practice - the way I've seen people spend extra money on projects isn't really for long term cost reduction but features that make it look flashy (increasing the scope and making it more expensive to maintain).


Take, for example, road surfacing. You can use gravel, which requires multiple maintenance visits per year to remain functional and definitely has knock-on costs in terms of car damage and such.

Or you can upgrade to asphalt - lasts much longer, much lower maintenance in terms of required manpower and visits to remain functional, etc.

Or, if you want to go the whole way, you can use reinforced concrete or a slab paver setup, they will last ~30-50 years depending largely on traffic (asphalt tends to degrade even with little traffic).

That's what I mean. It's about a 3x initial cost difference between each of the tiers, but your long term maintenance costs go down the more you spend. It's not a strict one-to-one, but still.


Just because it isn't done in practice doesn't mean it can't be done--it's a cultural/institutional/incentive matter.


>>You can trade off future maintenance by spending more initially, or vice versa

> Umm is that really true ?

Maybe not universally, but often, yes. E.g., you can build using more expensive materials that will last longer/are more resistant to environmental decay.


asphalt vs concrete roads are a good example. of course, if you want maintain stuff under the roads, concrete is a real bear.


And when concrete roads fall into disrepair, they get to be really nasty to drive on. I feel like I'm going to shake my car apart driving on some roads in Iowa.

I can't say that asphalt roads in disrepair are much better, but potholes tend to be more quickly fixed than slightly mis-aligned sections of concrete roads.


Lowering maintenance costs is one of the things you can spend money on when building infrastructure, but not the only thing, so it depends on how you spend the money.

> Not magic - innovation.

Innovation is great, but in most cases requires new upfront expenses that have already been covered for existing solutions. We already have a fairly good amount of infrastructure for producing infrastructure, so usually innovation is one of the ways you can spend more upfront to reduce long term maintenance.




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