Shachi Kurl Headshot

Canadian, U.S. Cities Sound Similar Notes On Infrastructure Funding

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Canadians and Americans may not agree on every issue of public policy, but when it comes to the issue of infrastructure, municipal leaders on both sides of the border appear to be singing from the same songbook.

Just a couple of weeks ago, mayors and councillors from across Canada took one single demand to federal politicians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' advocacy days: give them more money to fix our roads, repair our bridges and replace our sewers.

They further demanded: provide that money, which will run into the billions, over a 20-year period. Make sure that funding is stable, and maintained.

It's a tall order. And so far no one has any really good answers about where that funding is supposed to come from, with the exception of taxpayers wallets. But perhaps from the city government perspective, there is strength in numbers and geography.

An online survey of a representative national sample of 1,001 American adults, conducted by Vision Critical, found people in the United States look at renewing and rebuilding infrastructure as one of the key challenges facing American cities.

The survey found 39 per cent of respondents identified unemployment as the most important issue currently facing their city or town. More than a third of respondents felt traffic congestion has worsened.

A majority of respondents said they are satisfied with the way cities and towns are dealing with specific issues, such as providing good sanitation services, ensuring public safety, protecting the environment and having proper public transit services.

But fewer respondents, just under half, gave cities good marks on renewing and rebuilding infrastructure and spending tax dollars wisely.

CITIES SUMMIT

The full findings will be discussed at The New American City, a summit being held this week at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City, Mo. The summit will draw business and local government leaders from more than 50 U.S. and Canadian cities.

The argument they'll be bringing to the conference floor? That the crumbling infrastructures whose refurbishment we may view at net drains on our wallets in fact hold value and the potential for economic boom if they are properly rebuilt and maintained.

They will ask whether the private sector has a role to play in this critical investment. What will citizens think about private investment in public infrastructure on either side of the border?

As city leaders compare notes, their strategy will have to involve engaging citizens who are ultimately on the financial hook for the improvements they say they'd like to see. More than ever, citizens are showing us they are interested in sharing their views via social media.

Local government must find ways to harness this openness as North Americans seek to communicate what they need from their cities to their leadership. The technology exists, developed by leading technology and public policy firms, including Vision Critical's SparqPublic software.

Now it's a matter of taking citizen engagement beyond the town hall approach by using online technology that enables two way conversations, education and meaningful discussions about the tradeoffs that will inevitably be involved in deciding the futures of our cities.