In America, everyone seems to get all excited over new buildings, new bridges and new projects. Politicians love to stand in front of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and everyone loves to gawk at the new shiny ‘thing’.
While every else was getting excited over the Clipper City Rail Trail with its clean berm and smooth surfaces; I was studying it and trying to figure out how on earth all this ‘infrastructure’ was going to be kept up. Every time someone added another feature to the Trail, I groaned. One more thing that will break or wear out in time. And yes, eventually that smooth blacktop is going to be as pitted and filled with potholes as the short length that runs from the Graf Rink to the main path to High Street.
The difference between a rundown, dilapidated city and a prosperous community is how the infrastructure is taken care of.
The parks in the City that shine the best have an aggressive maintenance plan and funding to fuel it. Those without like March’s Hill are lucky if the lawn is mowed. Our downtown is the stuff of photos as long as you don’t pick out the details. The Chamber has done a great job of putting up flowers and garnishing the street lamps but even that doesn’t hide the cracked, uneven bricks and the broken lights.
So when the Mayor said that more effort will be put toward the Capital Improvement Plan, I didn’t get too excited. It will take hard work from an aggressive combination of businesses, DPW, the Chamber and an army of volunteers; as well as a detailed funding mechanism to make it all happen. You thought the Paid Parking Plan was elaborate? The CIP will make that one as simple as a one page flyer.
It’s going to take not just one or two funding shots in the arm but a long-term financial plan in which systematic upkeep is the lay of the land. It means that every vehicle is purchased with the knowledge that it will be replaced at a set time and plans made to make that happen now. Politically it isn’t easy which is why so many Cities go to paid professional managers rather than politically-motivated mayors.
Fortunately, we have an Executive Officer who, if the Parking Plan was any indication, is up to the challenge. We also have an aggressive DPS chief who is willing to make it happen.
But one warning. We are going to have a sizeable number of citizens who will think it a waste of time to pour money into maintenance. The biggest hurdle is the reluctance to plan.
It’s more glorious to build something new.
It’s more glorious to build new sidewalks than maintain the old ones.
It’s more politically exciting (and more expensive too) to build new buildings rather than look for an existing building to retrofit.
It’s no fun burying utility lines, restoring street lamps and replacing worn sidewalks with ADA-compliant ones, and doing labor-intensive weeding.
No ribbon-cutting, no ceremonies, no special recognition, no speeches; just hard work.
Our first task will be to convince the body politic how important it is to spend money (and that could even mean raising taxes) on something as unexciting as maintenance.