Infrastructure Intertwined with Real Estate

Fixing roads and bridges has become a familiar refrain.  Infrastructure in the U.S. gets described as aging, inadequate, and in need of substantial repair.  The condition of the nation’s infrastructure does not earn a seal of approval from the American Society of Civil Engineers — it receives a failing grade.  Prior to rushing forward, with shovels ready, might there be new approaches to fix tomorrow’s roll out of infrastructure?

Yes, says Orion, taking cues from fresh ideas across the country.  Reimagining Infrastructure is an impressive series from the bimonthly magazine.  In an introductory editorial last year unveiling the two-year project of rethinking infrastructure for the next generation, Orion Editor-in-Chief H. Emerson Blake made the case that our lives are intertwined with our current infrastructure.  Blake framed the problem of America’s infrastructure as running deeper than its condition, but rather extending into “the outdated philosophy that underlies it.”  Orion’s reportage collects stories of Americans working together conscientiously to incorporate engagement and innovation for their infrastructure solutions. 

Real estate and infrastructure have long been intertwined.  Infrastructure isn’t exclusive to the public square without impact on private property rights.  Take for example potential conversions of cargo railways into high-speed commuter lines.  Property owners with crossing rights adjacent to a converted railway share a crucial safety issue with railroad operators that will get put to the test with an adaptive use.  Car drivers anticipating a 40 mile-per-hour freight train makes for a different safety dynamic versus anticipating a 160 mph high-speed passenger train.     

Public policy fastens infrastructure to real estate in a number of ways at different levels of government.  Consider the following examples.  With housing, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program to certify new homes that are constructed to satisfy EPA's efficiency and performance criteria with its WaterSense certification, “designed to reduce residential water use indoors and out.”  The State of Illinois through its Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program allocates funds received from a portion of real estate transfer taxes, and awards monies by way of matching grants to local agencies for parks and greenspace projects.  A number of local municipalities around the country utilize Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to capture new tax revenue from real estate investment in designated areas in order to pay for public infrastructure within the designated area.  Understandably, infrastructure and its costs — financial, legal, and ecological — weigh heavily in the balance upon people and their real estate.

Orion’s first six installments of Reimagining Infrastructure are accessible below:

    - May 2014