Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Voters Support of Municipal Bond Packages Nationwide – Opening Up Huge Contracting Opportunities for Private-Sector Contractors
Deteriorating transportation and water infrastructure, the need for affordable housing, school district overcrowding, transportation and public safety needs along with aging government facilities nearing the end of life expectancy brought out large numbers of voters across the country on Nov. 8 to pass municipal bond packages totaling billions of dollars.
With state and federal infrastructure as well as other types of funding drying up, cities are being forced to take on more debt for projects to mitigate traffic congestion and to continue to provide essential citizen services such as safe, reliable water. Public officials at the municipal level of government must also deal with critical needs related to public safety, educational facilities, energy efficiency, health care, affordable housing, city streets and bridges.
New jails, fire departments, health care clinics and affordable housing are top priorities for many communities. Transportation is critically important to citizens and most municipalities are working hard to become “smart cities” that offer higher quality and more efficient services. Because of all of this, it is not surprising that the new funding was approved Nov. 8 by voters nationwide. The passage of these bond referendums will also result in thousands of jobs, and the projects that will result guarantee a great economic stimulus.
Here are some examples of municipal bond packages that passed throughout the country:
- Charlotte, North Carolina – Three bond referendums were approved by city voters, the second of four planned bond votes through 2020. The city plans capital spending of approximately $900 million. Passage of the three proposals will allow officials to borrow approximately $219 million to address city transportation, affordable housing and quality of life issues in neighborhoods. About $16.2 million will be used for new roads in what officials say will be the next high-growth area of the city, featuring thousands of homes and offices, shops, hotels and parks. Also included is a new $12.8 million bridge over Interstate 85 and more than $60 million for new construction and improvements to hiking/biking/pedestrian improvements. To address a lack of affordable housing in the city, $15 million is set aside to facilitate the speedy construction of housing for that purpose.
- Los Angeles, California – The result of passage of two ballot proposals in Los Angeles will allocate billions of dollars to mitigate two major problems in the city – traffic congestion and homelessness. On the transportation side, the city will focus on construction of new light rail and a tunnel to connect the Valley and Westside. And because of voter approval, a $1.2-billion bond measure to provide a long-term solution to housing for homeless people will become a reality.
- Austin, Texas – A $720 million transportation bond proposal was passed in the state’s capital city, which quadruples the size of any previous transportation bond approved in the city’s history. Bond proceeds will include $482 million for a variety of improvements to nine major city corridor streets and $137 million for expansion of the city’s bike and trail system, sidewalks and transit. Another $101 million will be dedicated to major roads on the densely-populated west side of the city.
- Columbus, Ohio – Voters here approved a $950 million bond referendum for transportation and water issues and numerous capital projects. Public utility upgrades – water, sewer and lighting – are also planned and $460 million of the bond amount is allocated to these projects. Road projects will be underwritten with $160 million of the bond proceeds and new recreation centers and park projects will get $110 million. Approximately $70 million is set aside for safety and health projects.
- Flagstaff, Arizona – Proceeds from a $12 million voter-approved bond issue will go toward funding a new $40 million courthouse. The total cost of the courthouse, where Flagstaff’s Municipal Court will be housed, will be split between the city and the county. The city will allocate proceeds from its approved $12 million bond sale plus an additional $11.5 million from court fees, property sales, redevelopment funds and a capital funds transfer.
- Portland, Oregon – Facing a shortage of nearly 24,000 affordable housing units, residents of Portland passed a $258 million housing bond to fund 1,300 affordable units. Voters agreed to allow an increase in property taxes to fund this initiative. The $258 million will be used to build 950 new units and facilitate the city’s purchase of the remaining 350 from existing private-sector units to be classified as affordable housing.
Cities and regional organizations have truly become the economic drivers in states. Citizens realize that public facilities and infrastructure must be modernized and expanded because of their state’s population growth. City residents nationwide are exhibiting a willingness to address growing community needs and are showing their support at the ballot box. The economic stimulus that results will be huge!
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.