Rethinking infrastructure:
Infrastructure Working Group

The SCS 2000 Infrastructure Working Group had its roots in a sustainable infrastructure task force organized in 1998 by the Growth Association's infrastructure program, Build Up Greater Cleveland (BUGC). BUGC had been working for many years to promote public-private partnerships to improve the efficiency of infrastructure construction and maintenance in Greater Cleveland. Initially the effort focused on improving the capacity of local government agencies to work on a huge backlog of infrastructure needs, and success was measured in the dollar amount of projects completed. Now that some of the backlog has been addressed, it's time to ask some more sophisticated questions about the quality, impact, and sustainability of our region's infrastructure systems for transportation, water treatment, and other vital services.

Following are edited excerpts from the presentation of the SCS 2000 Infrastructure Working Group, which was chaired by Chris Swift of Baker and Hostetler. The group's priorities are at right.

Improving regional coordination
and avoiding waste

By Chris Swift

Our work group was able to draw upon earlier work of Build Up Greater Cleveland's Sustainable Infrastructure Task Force, which derived some principles for prioritizing infrastructure investments [see below]. Expanding on those principles, we came up with five general categories of things that need to be changed if we are to be more sustainable in Northeast Ohio.

The number one change item by far was regional coordination. We determined that we need to strengthen regional mechanisms to facilitate the coordination of public and private sector infrastructure, land use, environmental planning, and decision making. The state needs to help do this. For instance, the state could mandate or offer incentives to require each county to prepare a sustainable development and community development strategy.

Second, we need infrastructure policies and programs that obtain the maximum utilization of existing systems. I think there is a common theme here that we want to avoid waste and to use what we have in the appropriate fashion.

We also recognized that Northeast Ohio has had little population growth and that expanding infrastructure and public subsidies over a wider geographic idea could be wasteful, create environmental challenges, and be harmful to the older neighborhoods. Communities should continuously evaluate such trends, and their planning, zoning, and economic development plans should search for ways to move in the direction of sustainability.

We also considered the importance of infrastructure maintenance. More emphasis should be placed on maintenance in the process of investment and procurement decisions, including defining who is responsible, identifying potential revenue sources, and understanding the life-cycle cost implications of decisions. For example, when we build a road, we need to know who is going to be responsible for maintaining that road, where the money is going to come from, what materials will minimize future costs for resurfacing, and what is the right way to be approaching all this? Upcoming changes in accounting standards will require governmental entities to list their infrastructure investments as an asset and create depreciation reserves. Such changes in standards will help people understand that infrastructure is a depreciating asset that must be maintained.

The last item relates to technology. We need to develop and utilize information technology, geographic information systems, and other technological innovations to enhance the performance of existing infrastructure systems, as well as to facilitate the development of technology of companies and the technology skills of the Northeast Ohio workforce. It's going to be important for Northeast Ohio to compete with other areas of Ohio, the nation, and the world, and to do so we will need to be wired appropriately, and to be wireless as well. But we can't have people laying fiber optic cable down a road two days after the road was paved. We must have coordination of these various infrastructure improvements.

One other point I should mention is that in our working group meetings we talked about the many things that need to change, but we also talked about what we like. We found a lot of things that we really liked about living here in Northeast Ohio.

Chris Swift is an attorney at Baker & Hostetler and chair of the Build Up Greater Cleveland Sustainable Infrastructure Task Force.


Reinvesting in the core

By Dave Goss

In some respects, sustainability is not a new concept in Northeast Ohio. It's what we've been doing with our infrastructure investments.

Since 1984, we've made more than $3.4 billion worth of investments in public infrastructure projects in Cuyahoga County. If you apply the sustainability principles developed by Build Up Greater Cleveland to these projects, you find that 87% moves us toward greater sustainability.

I think we need to celebrate that. Sometimes we forget that back in the '70s and early '80s the Cuyahoga River was on fire and Lake Erie was dead. The bridges were falling into the river in the Flats. RTA was facing 20 years of RTA Rapid Transit in Clevelanddeferred maintenance. The city was in default. We were tied up in court cases between the suburbs and the city on water and sewer. It was a mess.

All the investments we made in infrastructure have allowed us to stage our comeback. And over $1.5 billion of it is underground [in water and sewer improvements]. You don't even see it. When was the last time you turned on your water and it wasn't good quality? You forget that the river and the lake are cleaned up. That isn't just an accident. It was because of these kinds of investments.

We also have looked at future investments and found that 95% of the proposed $2.7 billion worth of investments in our Community Capital Investment Strategy for 1999-2003 also can be classified as sustainable. So we are getting even better. Of course, Cuyahoga County is a fairly developed area, and it shouldn't be surprising that most of our funds are going into maintaining and upgrading existing systems. But I sometimes think that we get preoccupied over issues like widening of interstates, and we tend to forget the major investments we have made in other areas.

Dave Goss is director of Build Up Greater Cleveland (BUGC), the pubic works infrastructure program of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association.


Sustainable infrastructure principles

The following principles were developed by the Sustainable Infrastructure Task Force of Build Up Greater Cleveland.

Prioritize infrastructure investments that:

  • Promote long-term regional sustainable development, through the integration of economic, environmental and equity issues and concerns, that: a) improves the economic vitality of the region's urban cores with particular emphasis on leveraging investments in priority municipal/county/regional economic development programs; b) improves the quality of our region's natural environments, taking into consideration air, land and water quality; species diversification; habitat preservation; conservation and restoration of resources; and minimization of waste; and c) supports the social cohesion of communities and improves the quality of life for all segments of society.
  • Preserve, rehabilitate and/or maintain elements of the existing infrastructure system.
  • Enhance the total regional infrastructure network, comprised of a variety of "upstream" and "down-stream" public and private facilities and systems.
  • Pursue "best practices," ecological considerations and technological innovations in design, construction and operation.
  • Seek the most favorable cost/benefit ratio and lowest life-cycle costs after fully considering all related economic, environmental and equity issues.
  • Support consensus community, intergovernmental and public/private processes and plans.
  • Ensure that each investment will be maintained, and its benefits sustained, in the long-term.


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Proceedings of Sustainable Communities Symposium 2000
Three days in May 2000
Symposium agenda
The thought and practice of sustainability
Themes of the discussion
Agenda for architecture/urban design
Agenda for business/economics
Agenda for infrastructure
Agenda for political/legal issues
Agenda for health
Forging a regional civic vision
Committed to people and place
Sustainability pledge
Quotes from speakers
Resources for sustainability

Download publication of SCS 2000 proceedings

Back to main sustainability page
Go to SCS 2000 site


Priorities for infrastructure

Here are the sustainability priorities proposed by the SCS 2000 Infrastructure Working Group.

Regional coordination

Strengthen regional mechanisms to facilitate the coordination of public and private sectors' infrastructure/land use/environmental planning and decision making.

  • Advocate for a State of Ohio mandate (to include funding incentives) that requires each county to prepare a sustainable development/redevelopment strategy.
  • Advocate for the State of Ohio to provide funding support/incentives to metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) to achieve improved integration/coordination of infrastructure, water quality and land use planning/decision making performed by local governments.


Develop infrastructure funding and tax policies/programs that encourage coordination of infrastructure and development investments to obtain maximum utilization of existing infrastructure systems.

  • Advocate for changes to applicable state and local regulations/policies (tax, funding, environmental, social equity) to encourage improved regional coordination of infrastructure and development/redevelopment investment decisions among local governments.
  • Advocate for changes to state transportation and water quality policies to provide additional funding assistance (not loans) directly to local governments to preserve and rehabilitate existing public infrastructure systems.

Quality of life

All communities should be made aware that Northeast Ohio has had static population growth and that expanding infrastructure, with public subsidies, over a wider geographic area is wasteful, creates environmental challenges, negatively impacts quality of life and is harmful to older neighborhoods, especially their tax bases. Communities should continuously evaluate current and emerging trends and their planning documents, zoning ordinances and economic development plans should reflect these trends and search for ways to move them in the direction of sustainability.

  • Facilitate the development and implementation of sustainable "smart growth" programs/plans at state, regional, and local government levels.
  • Advocate for new State of Ohio incentives to facilitate the revitalization of regional urban core areas through active public and private sector leadership participation in Governor Taft's new urban revitalization program.

Infrastructure maintenance

More emphasis on infrastructure maintenance as part of infrastructure investment and procurement decisions, including defining who is responsible, identifying potential revenue sources and understanding the life-cycle cost implications of the decisions.

  • Continuously advocate to Northeast Ohio residents and public/private leadership the value of protecting/restoring watersheds and Lake Erie, reducing natural habitat and species loss, and improving water and air quality.
  • Advocate for new state and local practices that incorporate the consideration of life-cycle infrastructure maintenance costs and responsibilities into public sector infrastructure investment decision making.


Develop and utilize information technology (IT) applications, geographic information systems (GIS) and technology innovations to enhance the performance of existing infrastructure systems and facilitate the development of technology-oriented companies and the technology skills of the Northeast Ohio workforce.

  • Promote the increased use of information technology (IT), geographic information systems (GIS) and infrastructure-related technology innovation applications that simultaneously enhance the preservation/utilization of existing infrastructure systems and facilitate the enhancement of technology-oriented workforce skills and economic development in Northeast Ohio.
  • Conduct workshops for the existing regional infrastructure workforce to facilitate the increased use of GIS to enhance the region's infrastructure-related planning and decision making processes.

Symposium breakout session
for infrastructure


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