Lots of commentary these days on the need for spending on infrastructure.  Here’s one.

But they all say more or less the same thing: we’re falling behind, and it’s going to be expensive.  Upgrading water and sewer lines, fixing bridges, extending broadband service – all familiar stuff. 

And while I’m sceptical about the numbers (prepared by those most likely to benefit), I have no doubt that it’s more than we’ve been budgeting.  But something is missing from the litany. Namely, that the bill is coming due for the cost of sprawl. 

We have been blessed, these past two or three generations, by a combination of circumstances that have made possible the most comfortable and affluent way  of life human beings have been fortunate enough to experience – at least those of us in this part of the world.

After World War II, in particular, we were able to access vast quantities of land, water, energy, money and technology, sufficent to build our urban regions at a scale never previously seen at a price that made the single-family house and automobile accessible to the average working person. 

So good were we at building the suburbs (and let’s give government credit for providing in abundance the essential ingredients), that we assumed we could emphasize growth and expansion over maintenance and reinvestment. 

I should note, as someone who sat on a city council, that in fact municipalities in B.C. are pretty good at maintenance: we replace, for instance, one percent of our sewer and water lines every year, and incorporate those expenditures into our capital plans.

Nonetheless, we have probably overbuilt what we are able to afford, at least in the current circumstances.  So should we now borrow even more money to finance sprawl-inducing infrastructure in order to use up even more extravagantly the land, water and energy which are still the essentials for civilization? 

Of course, that’s not the way the question will be asked.

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