AuthorTopic: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread  (Read 1260 times)

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 29923
    • View Profile
The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« on: January 27, 2017, 01:42:23 PM »
This is really the story of all of Industrialized Civilization, that the cost of maintaining it is greater than the society can bear.  So debt is issued out until such time as the debt all crashes down to make up the shortfall between what tax revenues are and what it actually costs to run the system.

Kick off article for this official thread on infrastructure below.

RE

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-20/the-real-reason-your-city-has-no-money/

The Real Reason your City has no Money
By Charles Marohn, originally published by Strong Towns


    January 20, 2017

Lafayette, Louisiana, has a population of around 125,000. That makes it about the 200th largest city in the country; not really big but not really all that small either. It has a unique culture and geography, but the layout and design of the city are very ordinary American. Get outside of the core downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to visit the strip malls, big box stores and residential subdivisions and Lafayette looks like any other city you’ll pass through.

I stress its unremarkable nature not to denigrate it in any way — I love the city and I have a special fondness for the people of Lafayette — but to help connect you, the reader, to a shared plight. Except for a small handful of North American cities — literally five or less — Lafayette provides an insight into why your city has no money.

Problems have solutions. Predicaments have outcomes. What is happening in Lafayette is not a problem; it’s a predicament.

Along with my good friends and colleagues Joe Minicozzi and Josh McCarty of Urban 3, I was invited to work with the city of Lafayette to help them get a handle on why they could not keep up with infrastructure maintenance. Through a strange path, the city had found itself with a lawyer turned newspaper reporter — a really sharp guy named Kevin Blanchard — as their public works director. Questions that prior directors had found inconvenient to ask were now front and center.

Like most cities, Lafayette had the written reports detailing an enormously large backlog of infrastructure maintenance. At current spending rates, roads were going bad faster than they could be repaired. With aggressive tax increases, the rate of failure could be slowed, but not reversed. The story underground was even worse. Ironically, this news had historically been the rationale for building even more infrastructure (theory: this is a problem that we’ll grow our way out of). That didn’t make sense to Kevin or to the city’s mayor, a guy named Joey Durel.

Joe, Josh and I interviewed all the city’s department heads and key staff. We gathered as much data as we could (they had a lot). We analyzed and then mapped out all of the city’s revenue streams by parcel. We then did the same for all of the city’s expenses. This was the most comprehensive geographic analysis of a city’s finances that I’ve ever seen completed. When we finished, we had a three dimensional map showing what parts of the city generated more revenue than expense (in business terms, this would be called profit) and what parts of the city generated more expense than revenue (again, in business terms, this is considered a loss).

Here’s that map. In accounting terms, green equals profit and red equals loss. The higher the block goes, the larger the amount of profit/loss. If you have a sense of the basic layout of North American cities post World War II, you can figure out pretty easily what is going on here.


A blue/green version now available thanks to the work of a generous contributor (for those that are red/green colorblind).

There are some remarkable things to note right off the top. When we added up the replacement cost of all of the city’s infrastructure — an expense we would anticipate them cumulatively experiencing roughly once a generation — it came to $32 billion. When we added up the entire tax base of the city, all of the private wealth sustained by that infrastructure, it came to just $16 billion. This is fatal.

It’s obvious to me why this is fatal, but for those of you for whom it is less clear, let me elaborate.

The median house in Lafayette costs roughly $150,000. A family living in this house would currently pay about $1,500 per year in taxes to the local government of which 10%, approximately $150, goes to maintenance of infrastructure (more is paid to the schools and regional government). A fraction of that $150 – it varies by year – is spent on actual pavement.

To maintain just the roads and drainage systems that have already been built, the family in that median house would need to have their taxes increase by $3,300 per year. That assumes no new roads are built and existing roadways are not widened or substantively improved. That is $3,300 in additional local taxes just to tread water.

    “Using ratios we’ve experienced from other communities, it is likely that the total infrastructure revenue gap for that median home is closer to $8,000 per year.”

That does not include underground utilities – sewer and water – or major facilities such as treatment plants, water towers and public buildings. Using ratios we’ve experienced from other communities, it is likely that the total infrastructure revenue gap for that median home is closer to $8,000 per year.

The median household income in Lafayette is $41,000. With the wealth that has been created by all this infrastructure investment, a median family living in the median house would need to have their city taxes go from $1,500 per year to $9,200 per year. To just take care of what they now have, one out of every five dollars this family makes would need to go to fixing roads, ditches and pipes. That will never happen.

Thus, Lafayette has a predicament. Infrastructure was supposed to serve them. Now they serve it.

All of the programs and incentives put in place by the federal and state governments to induce higher levels of growth by building more infrastructure has made the city of Lafayette functionally insolvent. Lafayette has collectively made more promises than it can keep and it’s not even close. If they operated on accrual accounting — where you account for your long term liabilities — instead of a cash basis — where you don’t — they would have been bankrupt decades ago. This is a pattern we see in every city we’ve examined. It is a byproduct of the American pattern of development we adopted everywhere after World War II.

There are two questions I’m commonly asked when I tell this story. The first is: how did this happen? The second: what do we do now?

The way this happened is pretty simple. At Strong Towns, we call it the Growth Ponzi Scheme. Through a combination of federal incentives, state programs and private capital, cities were able to rapidly grow by expanding horizontally. This provided the local government with the immediate revenues that come from new growth — permit fees, utility fees, property tax increases, sales tax — and, in exchange, the city takes on the long term responsibility of servicing and maintaining all the new infrastructure. The money comes in handy in the present while the future obligation is, well….a long time in the future.

    “Humans are predisposed to highly value pleasure today and to deeply discount future pain, especially the more distant it is.”

Psychologists call this temporal discounting. Humans are predisposed to highly value pleasure today and to deeply discount future pain, especially the more distant it is. It’s easy today to rationalize that future expense, especially when you feel so assured that new growth will make those future people better off. This thinking is how you end up with two dollars of public infrastructure for every one dollar of private investment. This is how you spend yourself into bankruptcy.

This isn’t a political, cultural or social failing. As humans, we’re wired to act this way. Modernity removed most physical restraints, government removed the financial, and we did the rest.

So what do we do now? Well, we’re about to create a huge pot of money at the federal level that we can spread around to try and solve this problem. Only, it’s not a problem. It’s a predicament; it has no solution, only outcomes.

It’s a predicament that nearly every American city, with very few exceptions, finds itself in. Even if there was enough wealth and productivity to fix all of this — and there isn’t anything close to that amount — we would be fools to spend it so unproductively.

All this infrastructure is a bad investment. America needs a different model of growth and development.

Tomorrow I’m going to show how the poor are financially propping up our cities and how, once we understand that, we can start making low risk investments that actually make us wealthier as a country while also improving our quality of life
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline K-Dog

  • Administrator
  • Sous Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 2092
    • View Profile
    • K-Dog
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2017, 02:11:43 PM »
That was a good article.  I don't agree ignoring future pain is hard wired into human nature.  What happens is those sensible enough to consider the future are eclipsed by loud greedy ignorami who always dominate over reasonable discussion and action.

Some of us are a few hundred thousand years behind the rest of us developmentally but unfortunately these individuals are the same people who grab power and rule.  Anybody who tried to point out future problems was ruled anti-American and possibly labeled a communist at the end of WWII when the damage was done.  The modern equivalent would be to be labeled an enemy of growth by the knuckle draggers.

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2017, 03:18:00 PM »
It’s a predicament that nearly every American city, with very few exceptions, finds itself in. Even if there was enough wealth and productivity to fix all of this — and there isn’t anything close to that amount — we would be fools to spend it so unproductively.

All this infrastructure is a bad investment. America needs a different model of growth and development.

Indeed it does, and for these and also other equally (and greater) reasons.  But this "different model of growth and development" requires something else entirely, which we don't have.:  an integral approach to design.  The problem, or dilemma, we're looking at here is as a result of poor design. In particular, no one seriously considered long term consequences of infrastructure investment, those decades ago, in consort with future maintenance costs.  In other words, in the past, folks designed and built stuff without much understanding about the future.

Unless THAT problem is adequately addressed in our current design and implementations, we will again be billing future people for our current failure.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg of the problems which result from a lack of integral design.  Integral design, as the name implies, seeks to take into consideration as much as possible of the totality of design concerns and considerations which would, if not included, "externalize" costs -- both monetary and otherwise.  Integral design would consider the future in an radically integral (whole) way, and not just in terms of economics.  It would also consider other kinds and types of well-being, such as social well-being, environmental and ecological well-being, aesthetic and ethical well-being.... Etc.  It would be a fully conscious design process, insofar as that's possible.  (It's not entirely possible, but that's no reason not to attempt to implement integral design.)

What we need at this time is a department of Integral Design in all of our colleges and universities.  And because this is so, so long as we have grade schools, middle schools and high schools, we should teach integral design in these as well, so that the colleges and universities won't be tasked with starting from scratch with students who are wholly in the dark.  What we need is a non-violent revolution of the "modern" world founded largely on Integral Design.  And that means we need to stretch and expand "ecological design" so that it is fully integral -- meaning that it includes but transcends the aims of ecological design.

If we did this, all of our institutions would necessarily shift and change, from agriculture to medicine, from psychotherapy to transportation... leaving nothing out.  Finally we'd have schools and universities worthy of their name, instead of the bullshit we presently have which we mis-name "education".  There is no non-revolutionary way to think about or talk about Integral Design.  To begin to think and talk about it is to become a revolutionary.  But let us make it a non-violent revolution, please.  By design.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 29923
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2017, 03:28:27 PM »
It’s a predicament that nearly every American city, with very few exceptions, finds itself in. Even if there was enough wealth and productivity to fix all of this — and there isn’t anything close to that amount — we would be fools to spend it so unproductively.

All this infrastructure is a bad investment. America needs a different model of growth and development.

Indeed it does, and for these and also other equally (and greater) reasons.  But this "different model of growth and development" requires something else entirely, which we don't have.:  an integral approach to design.  The problem, or dilemma, we're looking at here is as a result of poor design. In particular, no one seriously considered long term consequences of infrastructure investment, those decades ago, in consort with future maintenance costs.  In other words, in the past, folks designed and built stuff without much understanding about the future.

Unless THAT problem is adequately addressed in our current design and implementations, we will again be billing future people for our current failure.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg of the problems which result from a lack of integral design.  Integral design, as the name implies, seeks to take into consideration as much as possible of the totality of design concerns and considerations which would, if not included, "externalize" costs -- both monetary and otherwise.  Integral design would consider the future in an radically integral (whole) way, and not just in terms of economics.  It would also consider other kinds and types of well-being, such as social well-being, environmental and ecological well-being, aesthetic and ethical well-being.... Etc.  It would be a fully conscious design process, insofar as that's possible.  (It's not entirely possible, but that's no reason not to attempt to implement integral design.)

What we need at this time is a department of Integral Design in all of our colleges and universities.  And because this is so, so long as we have grade schools, middle schools and high schools, we should teach integral design in these as well, so that the colleges and universities won't be tasked with starting from scratch with students who are wholly in the dark.  What we need is a non-violent revolution of the "modern" world founded largely on Integral Design.  And that means we need to stretch and expand "ecological design" so that it is fully integral -- meaning that it includes but transcends the aims of ecological design.

If we did this, all of our institutions would necessarily shift and change, from agriculture to medicine, from psychotherapy to transportation... leaving nothing out.  Finally we'd have schools and universities worthy of their name, instead of the bullshit we presently have which we mis-name "education".  There is no non-revolutionary way to think about or talk about Integral Design.  To begin to think and talk about it is to become a revolutionary.  But let us make it a non-violent revolution, please.  By design.

I thought you weren't going to respond to my posts?  ???  :icon_scratch:

RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2017, 03:29:57 PM »
Many coastal cities will, by all reasonable accounts, be largely underwater at some point in the not-so-distant future.  How much long term infrastructure investment do these places require and merit?

Industrial civilization, as we know it, is almost certain to be impossible to maintain very far into the future, for reasons we can know and understand.  Should we shore it up at massive expense?

Automobiles, as we know them, are not likely to even exist in the not-so-distant future.  How much do we want to invest in infrastructure for them?

Modern, industrial agriculture produces ever less nutritious food at an ever greater cost in soil erosion and fertility.  How long do we want to keep that up?  How long can we?

Forests are shrinking to build houses.  Do we want forests in the future?  Can we actually live without them?

"Wealth production," in the modern sense,  destroys climate stability while eroding the overall health of ecosystems and the biosphere.  How long do we want to pretend, then, that we're creating wealth?

Integral Design theory and practice would be the tool set we'd need to address these kinds of questions.  So what are we teaching in our colleges and universities?  We're teaching folks how to attempt to perpetuate that which must inevitably die -- the modern capitalist-industrial system, hyperindustrialism, pseudo-politics, pseudo-education, fake news, phony living, nonsense and bullshit.  Instead.

This madness must end!
« Last Edit: January 27, 2017, 03:35:29 PM by JRM »
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2017, 03:32:54 PM »
I thought you weren't going to respond to my posts?  ???  :icon_scratch:

I responded to the author of the article you posted.  That's as much as I want to say to or about you.  If I say more I will surely violate your CoC, and my own.  Bye-bye.  Please let it go. Let me go. Leave it alone!  I have nothing more to say to you.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 29923
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2017, 03:48:11 PM »

Integral Design theory and practice would be the tool set we'd need to address these kinds of questions.

Integral Design Theory & Practice would not do jack shit to resolve the problems we have.  The problems result from Population Overshoot and Resource Depletion, primarily the Fossil Fuel Resources.  No redesign of the system can solve these problems.

The only thing that will solve these problems is a MASSIVE dieoff of the population of Homo Saps currently walking the earth.  The only questions are how long it takes, who gets to die and how many are left at the end of it, if any.

RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2017, 04:11:58 PM »
People have the potential to abandon absurd levels of irrationality. 

That's the premise of true education, which is the bedrock upon which any sound, reasonable politics or economics must stand.

The alternative is, indeed, mass death. 

Either we have a radical shift (revolution) in how we design things -- including education, economics and politics -- or we play a futile game of Make Believe which ends in disaster after disaster after disaster.

I have faith that we will choose reason over madness. 

But people must understand that Business As Usual (BAU) is not tenable and must inevitably result in disaster after disaster after disaster.

The opening article in this thread basically demonstrates that we've designed our way into a disaster. 

Sticking your fingers in your ears is not a way to hear better.  People are not really so stupid to think otherwise.

Ignoring problems has never made them go away.

There WILL be an Integral Design revolution.  It's not avoidable. It has already begun. 

But we must make Integral Design a major department in all of our schools, starting with colleges and universities.

Otherwise, we may as well shut the colleges and universities down, for they cannot be said to provide a useful education without Integral Design as a basic field -- as basic as math, biology, medicine, etc.

One cannot unlearn what one has learned.

People will, upon seeing the forest and the trees in context, wake up from the delusional nonsense upon which the modern, capitalist-industrial system is founded.   All of our institutions will be re-designed, as will our "infrastructure".  There is no stopping it.   Unless we want to call fingers stuck in ears "hearing and listening".



My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2017, 04:25:32 PM »
"We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

  - George Orwell
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 29923
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2017, 04:28:29 PM »
I thought you weren't going to respond to my posts?  ???  :icon_scratch:

I responded to the author of the article you posted.  That's as much as I want to say to or about you.  If I say more I will surely violate your CoC, and my own.  Bye-bye.  Please let it go. Let me go. Leave it alone!  I have nothing more to say to you.

Sigh.

Sometimes there is a Failure to Communicate, and this is one of them.

I am going to be here on the Diner in perpetuity, for so long as it exists.  You cannot avoid me.  I will critique your posting as I see fit, and you can either defend yourself and your POV or you can leave what I wrote to criticize you up without defense.  That's the choice, always.  You can be sure I will critique many aspects of your posting, because I do not agree with them.  On Trumpty-Dumpty we generally agree, but the rest of it is just conflict waiting to happen.

RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline jdwheeler42

  • Global Moderator
  • Sous Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
    • Going Upslope
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2017, 06:46:42 AM »
The only questions are how long it takes, who gets to die and how many are left at the end of it, if any.
When you state it that way, I agree completely.  What Integral Design would allow is extend things long enough for the reduction in population to be demographic and not traumatic, by dropping birth rates below replacement, and then having people die off naturally.  (I have previously quoted the Archdruid's post that we could have about a 90% reduction in population in a century through a mere 2% increase in death rates.)
Making pigs fly is easy... that is, of course, after you have built the catapult....

Offline JRM

  • Sous Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 3190
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2017, 01:44:08 PM »
The only questions are how long it takes, who gets to die and how many are left at the end of it, if any.
When you state it that way, I agree completely.  What Integral Design would allow is extend things long enough for the reduction in population to be demographic and not traumatic....

After years and years of looking into it, I carefully came to the realization that while, yes, there is a major human population problem, the much more serious problem, regards what we call "carrying capacity" (for humans) is not our sheer number, itself.  It is our harmful impacts per capita.  Remote villagers in India constitute a very large population, but their GHG emission levels, per capita, is tiny compared to a typical "first world" dweller.  And while none of us may want to live like that rural Indian villager, we'd all probably admire some aspects of their lives in contrast with our own.  (I certainly do.)  Would increasing the quality of life of those Indian villagers necessarily have a 1:1 negative impact?  The answer is clearly No. But if these same villagers raised their "standard of living" (in contrast to quality of life)  to that of an average American, and had a strong taste for frequent air travel, private automobiles, hamburgers and giant houses, Yes, it would.  So the question becomes, How can we increase the quality of life for people, both rich and poor, while also lowering our harmful environmental / ecological harm ("footprint")?

Those who wave their hands and say, "Oh, what you say doesn't matter because nobody cares..., yada yada, bla bla bla" are not saying anything at all about the facts of the matter, but are merely expressing their putrescent, unresolved grief (or, perhaps, malignant misanthropic disgust) in the form of  cynical dismissal. 

A central concept in Integral Design is that the designer is not merely interested in creating more ecologically, ethically and aesthetically sound products, homes, communities, processes, institutions, etc., but is also interested in folding pathways to implementation of these designs into their design process itself.  No one can yet say "This can't work!" because it has been so little attempted.  It's so cutting edge that it barely exists even in the most incipient sense.  But it cannot be faulted for being so young!
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 29923
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2017, 03:29:22 PM »
A central concept in Integral Design is that the designer is not merely interested in creating more ecologically, ethically and aesthetically sound products, homes, communities, processes, institutions, etc., but is also interested in folding pathways to implementation of these designs into their design process itself.  No one can yet say "This can't work!" because it has been so little attempted.  It's so cutting edge that it barely exists even in the most incipient sense.  But it cannot be faulted for being so young!

If you are throwing a party and inviting 100 people, it doesn't matter how well integrally designed your 1 bedroom apartment is, it's just too small to accomodate 100 guests.  If you cut the party size to 10 guests, they might fit.

It's a biomass problem, and there is too much human biomass on the planet.  Paul Chefurka put up a nice chart on this a while back, showing how human biomass and our farm animals and pets have taken over the total biomass of the earth.


After we get the population cut down by 90%, we can integrally design a better party.  Until that time, no design changes will make any difference whatsoever.

RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline Ka

  • Global Moderator
  • Waitstaff
  • *****
  • Posts: 885
    • View Profile
Re: The Infrastructure Collapse Thread
« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2017, 04:56:57 PM »

Those who wave their hands and say, "Oh, what you say doesn't matter because nobody cares..., yada yada, bla bla bla" are not saying anything at all about the facts of the matter, but are merely expressing their putrescent, unresolved grief (or, perhaps, malignant misanthropic disgust) in the form of  cynical dismissal. 

There are two classes of people who care. Doomers (other than uber-doomers) care because they know BAU cannot continue but would like something good to come out of the zero point. The other class of people who care are those whose power depends on selling cars, making weapons, etc. Unfortunately, it is this second class who controls the media, the politicians, and the military. So....

Quote
A central concept in Integral Design is that the designer is not merely interested in creating more ecologically, ethically and aesthetically sound products, homes, comermunities, processes, institutions, etc., but is also interested in folding pathways to implementation of these designs into their design process itself.  No one can yet say "This can't work!" because it has been so little attempted.  It's so cutting edge that it barely exists even in the most incipient sense.  But it cannot be faulted for being so young!

I say "this can't work" because the second class of people have all the power needed to make it work, and they don't want it to. If you want to convince me that it can work, tell me how you intend to convince this class of people to attempt it.

 

Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
2 Replies
732 Views
Last post May 29, 2015, 12:42:48 PM
by MKing
0 Replies
107 Views
Last post June 19, 2017, 12:53:10 AM
by RE
2 Replies
107 Views
Last post January 22, 2018, 02:09:31 PM
by RE