Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 21, 2014

Unsexy but Essential: NYC’s Infrastructure Needs

By David Reiss

The Center for an Urban Future has released a much-needed report, Caution Ahead: Overdue Investment for New York’s Aging Infrastructure. The report finds that

too much of the city’s essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th Century—a problem for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities in today’s 21st Century economy.

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This report finds that city agencies and authorities will have to invest approximately $47.3 billion to maintain the safety and functioning of New York’s infrastructure—leaving a $34.2 billion capital funding gap at the city, Port Authority, New York City Transit, Housing Authority and CUNY over the next five years. This funding gap includes only the replacement and repair of existing infrastructure—not new structures or increased capacity. (3)

Good government reports like this are often heeded for a day or two in the press and then filed away with other examples of wishful thinking. The fact is that it is hard for politicians to fix the old when it is so much more noteworthy to do ribbon cuttings for the new. But given that Mayor de Blasio has placed housing construction at the top of his agenda, a report like this might gain more traction than usual.

The report highlights work that is needed to be in the following areas, among others:

  • Roads
  • Subways
  • Natural Gas
  • Electricity Distribution
  • Water Mains
  • Sewage Pipes
  • Stormwater Management
  • Parks

All of these infrastructure needs are integral to large scale housing construction. Large, new buildings need to be supported with investments across these areas. This is a cost. But large scale housing construction also provides the opportunity to upgrade infrastructure more broadly. Concentrated development makes it more cost-effective to upgrade and modernize the infrastructure that supports new developments as well as their surrounding areas. There is no question that the de Blasio Administration should integrate infrastructure improvement with its ambitious affordable housing agenda. It may not be able to get two for the price of one. But with proper planning, it certainly could get two for less than the price of two.

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