How Trump should spend $1 trillion on America’s infrastructure, according to architects and urban planners

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President-elect Donald Trump.
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Mark Lyons/Getty Images

In late January, Donald Trump will become the president of the United States. One major piece of his plan for the new administration is spending $1 trillion on infrastructure.

Releasedin October, Trump’s infrastructure plan outlines his administration’s policy wishes for things like water systems and transportation for the next four years.

If approved by Congress, it will be the largest infrastructure package in a decade.

Trump budgets $1 trillion largely for highway, waterway, airport, pipeline, and bridge projects. Emphasizing $140 billion in tax cuts to private-sector investors, it “is in the proud tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system,” his campaign writes.

Business Insider asked a number of architects and urban planners for their recommendations on how Trump’s administration should spend the $1 trillion.

Here are some of the projects they’d like to see.


Public spaces: parks, plazas, and cultural centers

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matthewalmonroth/Flickr

America’s public spaces need an upgrade, says Quilian Riano, the principal of DSGN AGNC and urban design professor at Parsons’ New School of Design.

“Imagine if your neighborhood park include a variety of amenities tailored for your community such as maker spaces or spaces to learn a new skill,” he says. “A vision like this radically combines programs, turning parks and plazas into dynamic libraries and learning centers.”

Kathryn J. Madden, the principal at Madden Planning Group, also emphasizes the need for more community spaces, like STEM centers and maker spaces.

“These centers, which often have an education component, can provide a ladder into the innovation economy and other jobs,” she says. Public funding is necessary for these projects, even if this is in the form of a public-private partnership, Madden adds.

To start any of these projects, under Trump’s plan, construction and upkeep will require private investment from a national infrastructure bank – which would be incentivized through tax credits. However, as many others have noted, national infrastructure banks usually only work in favor of projects that generate revenue from their users, like toll roads and airports. Things like parks normally don’t make that kind of revenue, and since the bank will be on a national scale, public space projects will be competing with other projects (like airports) that might generate a greater return for private investors.


Public transportation and high-speed rail systems

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Shutterstock

Riano would also like to see heavy investment in subways, buses, and street cars. He believes that improvement to public transit would increase economic opportunities for Americans, since the systems would bring them closer to jobs.

“I do not think there is anything that can potentially help the working class of the US more than a robust public transportation option,” he says. “The expense of owning a car can often be too high for those that need mobility the most.”

Damaris Hollingsworth, a project manager at DLR Group, agrees.

Public transit “generates jobs and supports a more sustainable city with more efficient use of energy. And by reducing the need for private automobiles, it reduces carbon emissions, improving the air quality,” she says.

SERA Architects associate Jeffrey Roberts emphasizes the need for a high-speed rail system that connects cities.

“New rail or tram systems should be a component of urban planning in all of America’s mid sized cities,” he says. “The reduction in congestion and pollution would serve to make our cities far more livable.”

Though the fate of public transportation funding is not clear under Trump’s administration, the president-elect is a big fan of state-of-the-art train systems.

“You go to China, they have trains that go 300 miles an hour. We have trains that go ‘Chug, chug, chug.’ And then they have to stop because the tracks split, right?” he said in a speech in May 2016.

Republican members of Congress have expressed a lack of support for public transit subsidies, however.


Affordable housing

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People walk in front of the Bronxdale Houses public housing complex in the Bronx borough of New York City.
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Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Fast-growing cities like New York and San Francisco are in the midst of affordable housing crises. On the national and local level, Riano wishes for more investment in public housing.

“It would be good to have a coherent national housing strategy – one that was not driven purely by profit but that took into account the needs for urban housing and incentivized creative new uses for houses in shrinking cities,” Riano says.

While he realizes that this kind of investment may fall under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he says it’s important to consider access to housing in other infrastructure projects, like highways, water systems, and bridges.

“US infrastructure has been used in the past to segregate communities in terms of race, ethnicity and religious beliefs – using redlining and highways that separate communities, as an example,” Riano says.

Trump’s pick for HUD secretary, Ben Carson, has opposed laws against housing discrimination, criticizing them as “mandated social-engineering schemes.”


Energy-efficient courthouses, libraries, and fire and police stations

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The rendering of the new FDNY Rescue 2 Company station in Brooklyn, New York.
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Studio Gang

At a recent American Institute of Architects conference, Margaret Castillo, chief architect of the NYC Department of Design and Construction, said she would like to see more investment in civic buildings.

“Civic buildings could form networks for cities to support the people,” she said. “In a city like New York that’s so diverse with so many different populations, to create connections so that people aren’t isolated is so important.”

Beyond repairs and maintenance, WJM Architects Principal William J. Martin hopes the government funds widespread energy-efficient renovations to civic buildings (e.g. LED lighting and wind and solar power). This doesn’t seem likely, considering Trump has said he supports ramping up fossil fuel production.

“Many seem to think of infrastructure as the electrical grid, waterworks, bridges, tunnels, and roadways. While these structures certainly support the commercial activity of our country, they are only a portion of the infrastructure that really matters to us all,” he says.


Highway projects bolstered by long-term funding

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Cars travel north towards Los Angeles on interstate highway 5 in San Diego.
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Thomson Reuters

A large part of Trump’s infrastructure plan is to build a more robust highway system. Nan Whaley, the Mayor of Dayton, Ohio, emphasizes the need for highway projects that have a sustainable funding source for years to come.

“We are going to see a change in transportation quickly over the next 20 years,” she said at a recent American Institute of Architects conference. “We need a long-term plan that’s not ‘Let’s spend $1 trillion as quickly as possible, let’s spend the money right now’ – but make sure the plan is thoughtful, regardless of party.”