Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New publication, Handbook on Urban Infrastructure Finance

The Handbook on Urban Infrastructure Finance has just been published by the New Cities Foundation.  An interview with the author, Professor Julie Kim, is online at Citiscope ("Breaking municipal finance down to its basics").

The Octavio Frias Oliveira bridge in São Paulo, Brazil was built with proceeds from bonds sold to developers. The program has raised nearly $2 billion (U.S.) for housing and infrastructure. (Thiago Leite/ Shutterstock). 

This particular program sells bonds to developers who are motivated to buy because the bonds include density bonuses for new construction, but they function similarly to tax increment financing districts in the US.

The handbook's intended audience are public officials in growing cities in developing countries, although I believe it's likely a worthy read for government officials and citizens in all major cities. 

Another side of infrastructure is considering it as an "asset class," not just from the financing standpoint but from how local governments consider buildings, sites, and land as assets, and how they plan, budget, construct, and maintain it. 

-- "Town-city management: "We are all asset managers now""
-- "Capital/civic asset planning, budgeting and management processes"

Many cities, especially DC, could improve how they handle such matters.

In DC, the city has certain "public private partnership" vehicles in place such as the entity that manages the DC Circulator bus service.  But the city never followed through on bidding out the building and operating of a city-wide streetcar system.  In Maryland, the State has just awarded such a contract to build the Purple Line light rail system in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties ("Companies selected to build Purple Line," WTOP radio).

Contracting out or outsourcing transit operations, sanitation, and certain building operations (e.g., SMG is a firm that among other activities, manages theaters, auditoriums, and small arenas for many cities across the country) is becoming pretty common across the country.  And toll roads and high occupancy toll road expansion projects.  But the big design-build-operate-finance projects in rail transit are still pretty rare, partly because such projects are few in number. 

Interestingly, I just had an interaction with a firm that had been bidding on these kinds of big rail transit projects and they've decided to pull back, arguing that the cost to pursue the projects is particularly high in money and time, the likelihood of not winning bids is high, and competition for deals reduces profits significantly to the point where they are unsure that the business is profitable to pursue.

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At 9:19 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Looks like it is geared towards developing countries.

Using crowd-sharing or mini-bonds to build bike infrastructure could be an interesting model. Never heard of it. Being done in Denver?

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Will check that out. The thing about biking though is that it could be funded in part through parks-type bond financing. That was the whole point of the "Signature Streets" concept in terms of plan including high quality sustainable mobility infra (bike, walk, transit) + high quality streetscape to roads, with a branding-identity system, and a bond proposal (like Seattle's original Bridging the Gap now Move Seattle or Oklahoma City's "Metrpolitan Area Projects" program, now about to enter its 4th round).

Coming up probably Weds. an interesting entry about Metrorail station catchment area infrastructure.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

The thing about crowdfunding and bike infrastructure is that it costs too much and since it is geographically bounded, the n is too small.

E.g., there was a piece in the Post last week about local govts. trying to crowdfund park improvements and the projects not raising the minimum funding required to go forward.

... it's not unlike WMATA originally suggesting that bike share could function as a "bus bridge" between stations. Umm, no. One bus carries as many people as 80 bikes, and mostly you don't have stations that big at Metro stations, and the movement between stations is likely to be unbalanced anyway.

Mass transit is not personal transit. Similarly, infrastructure investment is hard to fund via donations.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...


At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Charlie said...

Yeah more pr than funding source

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks for this. Good article. Yes about PR. High profile project. Also lots of money in hand before launched (like how college fundraising campaigns work, they have at least half the money committed before they announce).

2. My thing about "high income areas benefit disproportionately" is that communities should commit to taking this kind of money in high income areas, and use that to displace investment in the high income areas and in turn focus on the underinvested areas.

This was a problem in Balt. County. They devolved programming at parks and rec centers to the community in the 1970s, by organizing "Rec./Parks Councils" responsible for a number of facilities in terms of programming (not maintenance, not capital).

The Councils in the high income areas raise tons of money. In District 4 very little.

But the Parks department didn't have a separate fund to augment programming in the lower income communities.

And they don't have a capacity building infrastructure to support the Parks Councils, say comparable to the Park Pride conference in Atlanta, but also technical assistance training such as that provided to community organizations in various cities.

As you know, I am not a lawyer and I really don't know Con. Law but it seems like a 14th amendment violation to me.

... this will be an issue in the piece I'll be writing about transit station "public improvement districts." Obviously, stations like Congress Heights have a lot less opportunity to improve in this way than the NoMA station. Even the Takoma station doesn't have the same kind of TIF income stream opportunity as a station in the core.

But my point is that you use these funds where you can, and in the areas without that revenue generating potential, you step in and augment, provide city-WMATA capital funds for projects.

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Citizen involvement

Did you see the article on Bowser, the cities credit cards and the snow removal?

But a useful metric -- not only how is city government touching someone (property taxes, trash, cleaning street, parking ticket) but how involved citizens are in with what they are doing.

On a a base level, having meeting rooms! I know when I was doing meeting in a past life that was always the hardest part!

I've always said Arlington is the closet you can get to Red China in the US, in the sense the ACDC is really the force behind 90% of what is going on. DC with ANCs really does give a veneer of citizen involvement.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Something is really "flawed" (flawed being the other "f" word) when you pay for road maintenance (snow removal) by credit cards.

2. Very good distinction between "services received" and "participation in the process." I like that. You need both. (plus, a focus on just the first treats us as customers not citizens who ultimately own the process.)

WRT Arlington, I was researching something the other day and came across a document on their "Participation, Leadership, and Civic Engagement" (PLACE) initiative updating the Arlington Way. Interesting.

Meeting rooms etc., it's about making spaces available that are usable "however" by people self-organizing.

It's why I think libraries, community centers, rec. centers need to be outfitted with flexible spaces that can be used by people to do stuff.

The one problem is that when the govt. runs the spaces, they close at 9pm.

ANCs are tough. One part of me thinks they are a great idea, but don't work well because they aren't provided with much in the way of resources or a training/capacity building infrastructure.

It's like how I describe an old boss I had and his attitude about "investment": "Show me what you can do with absolutely nothing, and I'll give you a very little bit."

But the problem with the way ANCs are set up is that they "snuff out" the development of a civil society infrastructure independent of but complementary to government.

ANCs "governmentalize" every and any issue as a matter for government to take on, deal with, so things get circumscribed and constrained very early with little room for self-help and independent action.

At 6:44 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

interesting way to fund a park in Minneapolis next to the Vikings Stadium, which will be heavily programmed.

For the first 10 years, the developer of a particular project (not the Vikings) will pay the bond interest, then it will shift to funds from the system of municipal parking garages.

Like with DC, they don't seem to want the city to take on the direct financial and management responsibility for running the park.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

NC passed a bill requiring a different scoring scoring system for transportation projects. It balances local and other concerns, including data on which decisions are made, and focuses investments more towards greatest need, rather than spreading projects equally across the state.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Apparently, Rahm Emanuel's heralded Chicago Investment Trust isn't doing so great.

One of the problems might be scale. Even though Chicago is the third largest city in the US, are projects not diverse enough to be considered not risky, and good candidates for investment?

Plus of course, the terrible picture of the finances in both the State of Illinois and Chicago proper might make it much harder to get investors.

although since Chicago left at least $1 billion on the table for investors wrt the parking meter long term lease, maybe investors would see the city as a good mark ripe for picking.


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